Veld Fires – Quicker Prosecution, Stiffer Sentences Proposed

Veld Fires – Quicker Prosecution, Stiffer Sentences Proposed

28 September 2010

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Zimbabwe —  Stakeholders in environment and natural resources management have called for quicker prosecution and stiffer sentences for people convicted of starting veld fires.

Stakeholders in natural resources preservation recommended the Mini-stry of Justice and Legal Affairs to expedite prosecution of environmental crimes.

Giving an update of the fire situation in Zimbabwe, Environmental Manage-ment Agency director Ms Kudzai Chasi said despite all the information and programmes by Government and stakeholders, the bottleneck remained within prosecution.

She said only tougher sentences wou-ld ensure people abide by Zimbabwe’s environmental laws.

“All our efforts meant to stop the menace of veld fires are being thwarted at the prosecution stage were the courts are not expediting the sentencing of criminals.

“These bottlenecks have resulted in fearlessness by would-be offenders. They know even if they are caught they will get non-custodial sentences.

“Of the 40 cases that we have referred for prosecution this year, none has been completed with the accused still free,” she said.

She said environmental crimes were not being given the same treatment as other crimes despite the massive damage to property and loss of both human and animal lives.

National Parks and Wildlife Authority director general Mr Vitalis Chadenga said the focus should shift from education to fines.

“The sector has done a lot to educate people but they seem not to take it seriously. The education should be accompanied with stiffer fines and even jail terms.

“Most of the fires are out of negligence and there is need for people to be reminded that they can go to jail for failing to act in a responsible manner,” he said.

Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe spokesperson Mr Albert Marufu said the police should make sure that they punish those who ignore veld fires which was the reasons for the devastating fires across Zimbabwe.

“The police need to buttress the information and action of stakeholders in the sector by making sure those who see fire and decide not to act are arrested.

“In most case people, even the police, ignore fires but with adverse consequences. Once they know that they can be arrested they are likely to inform on veld fires,” he said.

The stakeholders also bemoaned inaction by the Ministry of Agriculture, Me-chanisation and Irrigation Development, the Department of Roads and local authorities for failing to enforce fire suppression activities in farms, on roads and dump sites.

Environment and Natural Resources Management Minister Francis Nhema said he would take up the concerns raised as part of his ministry’s efforts to streamline action against veld fires.

Since the start of the fire season, veld fires have claimed 11 people, 18 elephants and other small animals.

The fires have also destroyed thousands of acres of vegetation.

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