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Friday, 09 December 2016 15:10

Passing of new Wildlife Act excites stakeholders

Written by  Sunganani Monjeza
One of the endangered animals: Elephants One of the endangered animals: Elephants

Mzuzu, December 9, 2016: The newly amended Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Act has excited stakeholders as the stiffer penalties that comes with it will no longer allow selfish individuals to steal the country’s natural heritage at the expense of the nation.

“We are thrilled that his Excellency the State President Professor Author Peter Mutharika and fellow Parliamentarians have prioritized the protection of our national heritage. Wildlife crime is serious and could land someone in prison for a very long time.

“We will not allow our natural heritage to be stolen by a few greedy individuals at the expense of the nation,” said Welani Chilenga (MP) in an interview, who is Chairperson of Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee.

Parliament on December 7, 2016 amended and passed the Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Act, giving the country’s courts the power to put wildlife criminals behind bars for up to 30 years imprisonment with no option of fine.

The new Wildlife Act has increased the maximum sentence against hunting in protected areas which has, in the recent years, aggravated depletion of wildlife population in the country’s game parks?

Chilenga, who also co-chairs the Malawi Parliament Conservation Caucus,said the amended Act represents a major change in Malawi in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

The need for amendments in the Act, primarily aimed at strengthening penalty provisions, was first identified in Malawi’s Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) review which was published in May, 2015.

According to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, the IWT established that the risk/reward ratio was much in favour of the criminals to the extent that the penalties did not, in any way, deter poachers from killing animals in protected areas.

He observed that the amended Wildlife Act has reversed that risk/reward ratio back in favour of the state.

“Given that ivory traffickers could expect to walk away from court with an average fine of $40 [close to MK28, 000] before 2015, it is no wonder Malawi was seen as a soft target for wildlife criminals.

“The new piece of legislation gives the authorities the power to take this much further,”  Kumchedwa said.

Previously, suspected wildlife criminals could be given an option of fine after conviction, which they always opted for and easily paid, due to the softness of the fine.

There were also strong reports that in some cases, poachers formed secret societies to which they made contributions to be used to pay for fines if one or some of them were arrested for killing wildlife. No wonder once a poacher was caught, they always opted for a fine in court.

With the amended Act, Kumchedwa said wildlife criminals operating in Malawi are already feeling the pressure. He commended the Malawi Government and its partners for the progressive work.

The first consultation phase of the Bill started in September 2015 involving all relevant government agencies as well as local communities and NGOs.

There were further consultations in draft phases before submission to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in June 2016. The amendment Bill was endorsed by cabinet on November 23 before it was passed in Parliament.