Minister of Environment and Climate Change Management Halima Daud has asked the Judiciary to mete out stiff sentences to those destroying forests and forest products.
Speaking on the sidelines of a two-day workshop on Forest Regulations and Law Enforcement for magistrates and prosecutors in Lilongwe recently, Daud said there is a need for the courts to do their part in fighting deforestation.
Said Daud: “While we face challenges in bringing culprits and cases to the competent authorities, unfortunately we often find that those who are convicted of forest offences are given penalties that rarely reflect the true value in social, economic and environmental terms of the natural resources lost.
“It is very disheartening that when people are caught making charcoal or selling firewood in the streets and are taken to court, they are only asked to pay K1 000 and then set free. We need to give those destroying our forest stiff sentences.”
Daud claimed she came under attack from some charcoal sellers at Dzalanyama when she went to inspect the damage to the forest there.
“I was attacked and my car was stoned. Some people could have lost their lives. But surprisingly, even when the issue was reported to police, nothing seems to be moving,” she said.
Daud said management of forest areas in Malawi has become a challenge in the recent years despite efforts by the Department of Forestry and other stakeholders to promote sustainable management and utilisation of forest resources.
“My ministry has faced serious challenges with law enforcement in terms of awareness of regulations and laws as well as our capacity to enforce regulations and laws,” said Daud.
But magistrate for Mchinji, Steven Chifomboti, defended the Judiciary, saying that penalties are given to offenders depending on the evidence presented by the prosecutors.
“As courts, we do not work in a vacuum. We weigh offences and listen to both sides, the offender and those offended and come up with a proper judgement, depending on the evidence presented to us at that particular time,” he said.