Fighting Corruption Must Be a Priority

Hon. Werani Chilenga
Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus

Hon Werani Chilenga, MP, Chitipa South, Chair of the Natural Resources Parliamentary Committee, Chair of the Parliamentary Tax Justice Network, and Co-Chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus

Let’s put the statistics aside for a moment, because we have all witnessed the devastation with our own eyes. Vast swathes of our forests lost up and down the country. Rivers silted up, topsoil washed away, and ancient habitats lost.

Of particular concern is the illicit charcoal trade, which is driving Malawi’s rates of deforestation to catastrophic levels. Supply chains are becoming increasingly controlled by trafficking syndicates and facilitated by a network of corrupt and greedy individuals employed across multiple government agencies.

This dossier, with contributions from some of the nation’s best investigative journalists, lays bare the extent and nature of what amounts to organised crime. Grace Khombe tells of the desperation of communities outside Dzalanyama, subjected to intimidation by the brazen, violent gangs who in turn pay a pittance for the harvested charcoal. Charles Mpaka documents the ‘bloody civil war’ between charcoal producers and the forestry departments. Bobby Kabango recounts a single night in the life of a syndicate who coordinated a train of 7-tonne trucks and minibuses laden with charcoal, bribing their way through police blocks.

‘Dirty money’ is facilitating criminal activity across the whole chain. Corruption is a serious crime, and those individuals who don’t resist the temptation ultimately rob from us all. Addressing corruption can feel overwhelming – it is not isolated to the forest sector, or indeed Malawi. It goes beyond systems to cultural norms and society values. However, transformational change IS possible and it is heartening that His Excellency, President Chakwera, has recently ordered a systemic review, including any legislative changes necessary to protect public resources. Our forests are indeed one of our most important natural assets.

I have honed in on corruption because it is a cause that the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC) have placed at the top of its agenda this year. I urge you to read our recently published Corruption Review, supported by the Anti-Corruption Bureau and Departments of Forestry, and National Parks and Wildlife. MPCC is fully committed to supporting those government agencies in following through on the recommendations.

However, the deforestation crisis will not be solved simply by tackling corruption. It is a complex challenge that needs to address the management of forest reserves, regulation of forest products, and access to sustainable fuel alternatives.

I therefore applaud the quality, fact-based journalism that is desperately needed to keep the spotlight on all of these issues, to help and urge everyone to take time to support our media, to read and learn, and in turn think about what role they can play in steering us towards a better future. Malawi’s natural resources must be protected for all Malawians to enjoy and benefit from, before it’s too late. The time is now.