Timber millers reject call for cancellation of vigil at Capital Hill

Reformed Timber Millers Union (RTMU) has rejected an appeal from the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources to cancel the vigil it is planning to hold in Lilongwe in August this year.

The union is planning to hold a vigil at Forestry Offices in Lilongwe to force authorities at the Capital Hill to address their grievances.

Among others, the indigenous timber millers are accusing the government of preferentially giving business to foreign-owned companies and traders in the Viphya Plantation by not awarding indigenous Malawians more land, destruction of trees in foreign concession areas, due to the failure by the foreign companies to manage them and preferential treatment towards the foreign companies, which is driven by corruption by politicians.

Rejects call for cancellation of vigil at Capital Hill

They further denounce authorities at the ministry for alleged unfair conditions in the new Raiply Concession Agreement document, particularly on User Rights, different rates being used for Raiply and RTMU for harvested wood, and being selective when enforcing the rules (example of Mulli Brothers who are operating without a License).

Additionally, RTMU is accusing officials in the government of offering the trees it planted to other operators such as Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Limited and Mulli Brothers for harvesting and not giving additional land with mature and deadwood from the Raiply Concession Area for RTMU to harvest and benefit from.

The union has lately issued a series of petitions to the Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources, Nancy Tembo, and State President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, with threats to hold vigils at Forestry Offices if the government does not address their grievances.

However, when he addressed journalists in Lilongwe on Wednesday, the Director of Administration in the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources, Hilary Namainja, dismissed the accusations as misplaced and representing the true reflection of the situation on the ground.

Namainja counter-accused the union of not committing itself to replant harvested sites, pay upfront for harvested trees and carry out replanting and care of trees in their concession area as it was at the recent meeting RTMU held with the ministry.

State Vice President Dr. Saulos Chilima chaired the meeting.

“RTMU has not made any commitments, even though this is also a key condition in the operationalisation of the signed Concession Agreement. So far, as RTMU, the union has planted only about 30 hectare (5 hectares in the last season) and has accumulated an outstanding debt of about MK102 million,” said Namainja.

Concerning the allegation that Mulli Brothers Limited are harvesting trees without License, the ministry said license for which the company is using expired in December 2020, and that the company obtained a court Injunction from the Supreme Court to stop the Department of Forestry from taking any action against it in the Viphya Plantation.

The office of the Attorney General is handling the matter.

Namainja disclosed that other private operators in the Viphya Plantation include Total Land Care, AKL Timbers, CPI, Pixus and six local small scale concessionaires that have planting trees in areas that are largely bare.

“Currently, there are no trees for harvesting in the government areas in the Viphya plantation. Government is in the process of engaging the private sector to plant trees in the bare areas,” he said.

He appealed to the leadership of RTMU to consider cancelling its planned vigil and give room to dialogue with the ministry.

But RTMU president Paul Nthambazale Nyirenda vowed that they will go ahead with their vigil because the government has not been honest in its dealings on the matter.

“We are going ahead with the vigil and preparations are at an advanced stage,” said Nthambazale Nyirenda.

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