Malawi — An Audit report from Malawi governments Auditor Generals office presented to Parliament on Friday last week have revealed abuse of resources and legal malpractices at Viphya plantations.
The Viphya plantations are one of the largest man-made forests in Africa, covering about 53,000 hectares established in the late 1940s in order to provide timber for domestic market.
Titled audit report on the economic performance and environmental sustainability of the Viphya plantations in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Affairs, the report exposes many loose ends encountered by the plantation.
It has depressing details of gross under-collection of revenues in the plantation that during the period, 2007 to 2009, Viphya Plantation Division lost revenue as it failed to collect more than K160 million from operators.
However, the Department of Forestry continued to renew licenses and award plots to the operators even if they did not comply with the logging agreements, the report says.
The average annual funding for the plantations from 2003/04 financial year to 2007/08 financial year has been around K11 million.
The auditors say Viphya plantation is one of the major forestry resources which could contribute greatly to sustainable economic growth in Malawi and improved social status of local residents.
But there are several challenges related to the sustainability and socio-economic contribution of the Viphya plantation and major problem is that the plantation is exploited unsustainably.
The rate of replanting is much lower than the rate of harvesting. Several companies do not have proper environmental plans for their operations. Overharvesting and improper environmental management by the companies are occurring because of insufficient monitoring of forest activities by the Forestry Department, the report says.
The AG says clear and legally based contracts with the concessionaires are important to ensure environmentally sustainable utilization of the plantation.
A review of the concession agreements between the Government of Malawi and operators in the Viphya Plantations showed that many contracts are not specific on the environmental obligations of the parties.
Apart from that wild fires are also contributing to a deterioration of the forest as many premature trees are being destroyed.
Most operators in the plantation, including the Department of Forestry are not well equipped with fire fighting mechanisms such as water bowsers and fire beaters hence are unable to control fire outbreaks.
However, it is still alleged that most of the bush fires in the plantation are started by members of the community within and around the Viphya plantation hence there is need for civic education and also provision of fire fighting mechanisms.
The report says the socio-economic contribution of the plantation is limited as most companies are felling trees only for timber production with very little value addition.
Only Raiply adds much value by making other wood products which it sells to both local and international markets. The nation, therefore, loses some potential income, which could be realised if companies engaged in this value addition, the AG says.
Some of the recommendations in reports are that it should ensured licenses issued to all operators have conditions that promote environmental conservation and rehabilitation.
Establish sufficient capacity to minimize the damage by fires, for instance, by improved monitoring, more fire gates, and acquisition of necessary fire -fighting equipment.
In response management is said to have taken note of the recommendations raised by the auditors and implementation of some of the recommendations is underway.