I don’t know about you, but I am bitter and disturbed with the return of massive load shedding by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom).
However, unlike John Kapito—executive director of Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama)—I cannot claim ‘sabotage’ of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by Escom as the reason behind the return of load shedding.
If there is anything like sabotage here, then it is one bordering on government’s years of negligence in managing the environment.
You see, I was at Shire River recently and I can report that its water levels are pathetically low—something that has complicated Escom’s generation of electricity.
We have come to this because we, the people, have destroyed the environment. All the trees in the basin of Shire River have been harvested for firewood and charcoal production. This has fuelled the widening and silting of The Shire—in the process reducing its water levels. This, Mr Kapito, is a fact, not sabotage.
The question we must answer today is: Why, as a country, did we come to be so careless and heartless to the environment that we solely depend on?
The immediate answer is to blame local people who, driven by the excuse of poverty, invade forests, cut down trees and produce charcoal.
However, to believe in such an answer is to assume that we are a lawless nation. But we are a republic, a nation of order. In fact, we have a law that criminalises production and circulation of charcoal without licence.
Not only that.
We have critical departments, namely Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) and Department of Forestry, both created by an Act of Parliament and funded by taxpayer’s money to manage our environment.
That is why when water levels in Shire River turn low because of siltation, or when Chikangawa Forest goes mercilessly bare, the whole thing boils down to the weakness of those we, as a people, gave power, through an Act of Parliament, to manage the environment on our behalf.
In fact, I can bluntly declare here that these two departments, or their parent ministry, have been a great let down. They owe Malawians an apology.
Under their watch, Chikangawa Forest has been depleted. Under their watch, Dzalanyama Forest is dying. Under their watch, companies cannot stop contaminating our rivers. Under their watch, our once rich hills have now all turned bald. Under their watch, we keep planting trees every year which do not survive. Simply put, under their watch, our environment has immensely been destroyed.
The question is: Why do these folks, despite being heavily salaried and allowanced, fail to implement laws that are there? Why don’t they arrest people who produce charcoal without licence?
For instance, the Forestry Department, I know, gave a licence to an association of local timber millers to harvest 10 000 hectares of wood in Chikangawa Forest Reserve for a period of 10 years. The 10 years were given to allow the association to harvest slowly and also replant the harvested areas. Guess what? The association harvested the 10 000 hectares in a year!
Or consider the case of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve. The forestry officials allowed local people to invade the reserve, cut down trees carelessly, produce charcoal illegally and, in what could be savagery of the highest order, burn down houses of unarmed forest guards.
Both these cases leave you wondering: Where the hell is the Forestry Department? Of course, their usual and expected excuse is insufficient funding. But why do officials in these departments allow the problem of funding to consume their faculties? What happened to lobbying Treasury for more funding? What happened to thinking outside the box?
I am happy that, today, things appear to be picking up for Dzalanyama. The new Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka has spoken with a tone I have never heard before. He has challenged forestry officials to arrest anyone producing charcoal without licence. He has promised to train more forest guards, arm them heavily so that they complement the deployed soldiers. And he has given deadlines. Big up Honourable Msaka! Thanks.