Harare, Zimbabwe — The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) of Zimbabwe has submitted proposals to the Attorney General’s Office with fines of up to $25 000 ($25 million old currency) in attempt to deter people from starting veld fires which have caused extensive damages to the environment.
This was coming at a time when the agency was battling to stop uncontrolled forest fires around the country.
EMA spokesman Phillip Manyaza told The Herald last Friday that the agency had submitted proposals to the AG’s Office with new penalties for causing veld fires.
Under the new proposals, the fine for causing veld fires would be $25 000 or a jail sentence of one year.
“Those arrested for starting veld fires are only paying $250 ($250 000 old currency) and this does not deter them from engaging in such destructive activities,” Manyaza said. “Under this new instrument to be put in place, fireguards are going to be mandatory.”
Fires have continued to ravage golf courses, national parks and pasture lands, compelling the Environment and Tourism Ministry to call for a meeting last week to discuss with all stakeholders how best they should address the situation.
“Apparently, media adverts on dangers of veld fires have done so little to completely deal with the problem. On the other hand, we have not really seen a significant number of offenders who are being arrested for starting uncontrolled fires,” Environment and Tourism Minister Cde Francis Nhema told the participants at the meeting.
He said although there is need to introduce stiffer penalties from the $250 to $25 000, there was also need to review strategies put in place earlier on to ensure they achieve their goal.
“Our goal is to see our forests breathing a clean fresh air, not destroyed in such a barbaric manner. Conserving the environment is everyone’s business because without a well-managed environment, we will not have a healthy society as our habitats will become havens of disease and pollution.”
He said despite the importance of sustaining a good environment, most crimes related to its degradation were not regarded as “serious enough, hence offenders’ daring attitudes”.
Cde Nhema said not many offenders have been sent to jail for sand poaching or illegal gold panning activities which damaged the environment extensively.
“We wish for an approval of at least one-year jail term for those who would have caused serious damage to the environment.
“For instance, people who start uncontrolled fires should be made to pay for the value of property that would have been destroyed by the fire. In some cases, there should not be an option to pay fine but to pay both the fine and go to jail,” Cde Nhema said.
He said lenient penalties on offenders have immensely contributed to deforestation, illegal wetland cultivation, animal poaching and other offences related to degradation of the environment.
There are 14 levels of crimes but offenders pay the same fine despite the varying magnitude of each crime perpetrated.
If authorities do not invoke some sections of the Wildlife Management Act, people who poach tonnes of fish worth millions of dollars from various dams every day are made to pay $250 only.
The poachers are rarely made to pay more than what they benefit by exploiting natural resources illegally.
As a result, all dams in the country are under siege from illegal fish operators who sometimes smuggle their catch into countries such as Zambia.
Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Rtd Major Edward Mbewe yesterday said they were now opting for the prosecution of all people caught on the wrong side of the law.
“With regards to the destruction of natural resources, poaching of wildlife and non-adherence of some operators to our regulations, we intend to come up with even more stringent measures,” he said.
He said the authority this year fined Ingwe Safaris, which operates from Dande for not adhering to conditions of their contract.
“Ingwe Safaris illegally shot five elephants and we made them to pay a $100 million fine,” hesaid.
He said the fine outweighed the loss the country had experienced as one elephant is worth more than US$15 000.
“We have calculated the value of the elephants with the view of having the company to pay for the loss.”
He said there were now considering cancelling licences of many other safari operators for non-adherence to Parks and Rural district Councils’ hunting regulations.