Local sawmillers under Reformed Timber Millers Union (RTMU) have written President Lazarus Chakwera expressing discontent over the Department of Forestry’s decision to sign a pact with a foreign investor whom the RTMU accuses of removing all local sawmillers from the plantation.
During a media briefing held in Mzuzu, RTMU leaders Paul Nthambazale said they have written to president Chakwera to intervene before they conduct vigils at Chikangawa Plantation manager’s offices starting from next week.
“We have written the president (Lazarus Chakwera) to look into our grievances which have genuine reasons for every citizen to complain about, how can some few crooked individuals sell the whole forest to foreigners, hence rendering thousands of locals who were benefiting from the plantation jobless?
“We are completely frustrated with the conduct of the responsible minister (Nancy Tembo) who has been playing hide and seek on the matter, we have written the head of state now as our last resort before we engage on another gear, which are vigils at the plantation manager’s offices,” Nthambazale said.
Nthambazale further complained that the leadership of Tonse Administration in the run-up to last year’s presidential polls made a commitment to help out on the challenges affecting indigenous Malawians working in the plantation (Chikangawa Forest) but now it seems it was rhetoric.
“Both Chakwera, Chilima even the late Sidik Mia came here and gave us an assurance that once in power they will quickly revisit the concession agreement which is punitive to many Malawians whose grandfathers planted trees in this forest,” another member chipped in.
However, Raiply Limited’s Public Relations Officer Dalitso Chimwala said the 60-year concession agreement was signed having reviewed how the company has performed in the last 20 years during which the company has been managing the forest.
“Management of trees takes a long time hence signing this long term agreement, Raiply has performed extremely well going by the review which prompted authorities (government) to consider giving it another long term forest management concession,” Chimwala said.
However, Chimwala could not be drawn to give any clarification on the allegations that there were some fraudulent activities leading to the signing of the 60-year concession agreement going by an audio clip in which the then Forestry Director, Stella Gama was heard giving false information to the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on natural resources.
Chikangawa Forest was established in 1960s by the former Malawi president Hastings Kamuzu Banda and has a total of 53 hectares of which Reformed Timber Millers Union were awarded a concession area of only 4 thousand hectares.