Members of Parliament (MPs) under Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change has summoned the Judiciary to a crisis meeting over lenient sentences courts mete out on illegal loggers and timber millers.
The meeting is coming a few days after the committee toured some of the forests at the weekend to establish and appreciate challenges the forestry industry is facing in the country.
The major objective of the tour was to find lasting solutions to problems that are fast leading to the extinction of natural and man-made forests in the country, particularly illegal logging and timber milling.
Nkhata Bay Northwest MP Commodious Leonard Nyireda (independent) and member of the committee told The Nation in an interview Tuesday that MPs were of the view that the Judiciary should be part of the solution to the problem.
Nyirenda said the lenient sentences the courts have been handing down on on illegal loggers and timber millers are frustrating efforts to decisively deal with the problem; hence, the need to engage them to strategise on how courts can start giving deterrent punishments to culprits.
Said the MP: “For a start, we’re meeting magistrates and judges that are based in the Northern Region. The meeting is scheduled for this Friday, and we are meeting them in Lilongwe.”
He said the committee was concerned that in spite of the growing public concern over the plunder of the forests, courts do not seem to demonstrate commitment towards rooting out lawlessness in the timber
“Through lenient sentences our courts hand down on culprits, the judicial officers seem to be fostering lawlessness. Hence, it is the wish of the committee to engage the judiciary to appreciate challenges frustrating our efforts to deal with illegal loggers and timber millers,” he explained.
But Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula emphasised in a telephone interview that ‘parliamentary statutes’ are to blame for the lenient sentences being meted out on people convicted of violating the Forestry Act.
Mvula, therefore, disclosed that the scheduled meeting will offer them an opportunity to present their grievances on the matter.
“The Judiciary is equally worried with the sentences being given to such convicts because illegal loggers and timbers millers are depriving the nation of one of its most treasured resources.
“But our hands are tied because the current statutes do not allow us to hand down stiff punishments. This meeting, therefore, gives us an opportunity to lobby for a review of the statutes,” he said.
Illegal logging has been a pervasive and widespread problem in the country, causing huge damage to forests and robbing government of the much-needed revenue for various social and economic development