Illegal logging is refusing to die in some parts of Tanzania while flourishing in others mainly owing to corruption among dishonest forest officials and loopholes at checkpoints, a recent survey by this paper shows.
Investigations in several forest reserves in Tanga Region have revealed that security at some entry points, where there are supposed to be rigorous checks, is no longer water-tight and village “informers” believe dishonest law-enforcement agents routinely betray them by revealing their identities to the culprits.
Village officials at Kwemdimu, Msasa ABC, Kisiwani, Kambai and Kwezitu, which surround Amani Nature Reserve and Derema Forest Reserve in Muheza, said bluntly that they are no longer report cases of illegal logging because they are afraid of finding themselves in danger.
The Amani and Derema reserves are located some 30 kilometres from Muheza Town and have for long served as catchments of several rivers such as Zigi, on which Tanga City heavily depends for its water needs. The river is also home to thousands of butterflies, which are exported to Europe and the Americas to earn residents of the area much-needed income.
Elaborating on the reported collusion between dishonest officials and illegal loggers, a village chairman told this paper: “We once arrested an illegal logger at Amani Nature Reserve. I took him to the police station but, surprisingly, he was back on the streets as a free man even before I made it back home. He was walking just behind me, cruel faced. I was shocked and decided to run for my life.”
Bertha Anderson, a member of a Muheza-based network of community groups involved in participatory forest management in Tanzania and popularly known as MJUMITA, said she was convinced illegal logging would end “if all dishonest district forest officials and security officials posted at checkpoints are made more accountable or are fired”.
“I once reported a case where about 70 trees were felled by illegal loggers but when the forest officials came they told us not to worry, allegedly about because the number of trees in question was insignificant,” she said.
MJUMITA chairman Revocatus Njau talked of cases of some district forest officials issuing illegal permits randomly “and dragging their feet on cooperating with village environmental committees as expected and on observing the laws governing the conservation of forest reserves”.
Muheza District Commissioner Mathew Nasei admitted when contacted for comment that he was aware that illegal logging was going on parts of the district and knew of some forest officials conniving with “the main perpetrators of this illegal practice to facilitate the unlawful business”.
Citing an example, the DC said the first five months of this year saw forest officials issuing 81 logging permits they claimed to be legal “but which in actual fact were not at all legal and some were acquired without following laid down procedures”.
“There have been cases of illegal loggers being arrested and subsequently being taken to police stations, only to be bailed out by forest officials,” he noted.
Nasei explained that the “mushrooming” of privately owned forests has had a role in accelerating land degradation in the forest reserves “because some owners or other people use them to disguise their involvement in illegal logging in the government forest reserves”.
He called for a thorough and urgent review of the law governing the protection of forest reserves, saying the pieces of legislation now in use “are too weak to deal with the changing situations and new techniques used by illegal loggers”.
But Muheza Principal Forest Assistant Jackson Saria blamed illegal logging chiefly on budgetary constraints, describing the allegations levelled against district officials as baseless and malicious and aimed at tarnishing the department’s image.
“No illegal logging is going on in the district and all laws and procedures guiding the issuance of logging permits are observed. We have become used to such allegations. After all, why don’t they produce whatever incriminating evidence they have so that the culprits are arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
Saria said lack of funds specifically meant for district forestry office has led to a halt to patrols since October last year “owing to lack of working tools and other facilities such as vehicles and fuel”.
“Imagine we conducted the last patrol in October, when the World Wildlife Fund fuelled my motorcycle and we have not received even a single cent from the government since despite several requests,” he added.
He said sometimes forest officials are forced to accept offers of transport from log harvesters “so that our staff can inspect and stamp logs and timber, which naturally makes members of the public have a negative perception of relations between loggers on the one hand and the officials on the other”.
Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa) Director General Allan Kijazi revealed to editors and senior journalists at a seminar in Morogoro at the weekend that poaching and lack of the citizenry’s appreciation of the need to safeguard and promote wildlife was costing Tanzania a fortune in lost revenue.