Mixed reactions on ivory case sentence

IMG_2664Published in The Daily Times, Malawi on Monday August 10th 2015
Written by Charles Mkoka

There are mixed reactions following the recent High Court ruling on illegal ivory trafficking case involving Patrick and Chauncy Kaunda.

The two brothers pleaded guilty to charges of illegal possession of specimens of endangered species under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

It has taken over a year to finalise the case after Malawi Revenue Authority, Fast Anti-Smuggling Team, intercepted a truck carrying 781 pieces of raw ivory concealed among bags of cement near Phwezi in Rumphi district while coming from neighbouring Tanzania.

The court convicted both the accused persons and the matter came for sentencing before Justice Sunduzwayo Madise on July 28.  They were fined 2.5 million each ($5500) or in default serve a 7 year jail term.  The court further ordered that the 2.6 tonnes of ivory be burnt within 20 days.  This was the highest fine to have been passed for any wildlife or environment crime to date.  However conservationists and the public at large have expressed different opinions on the ruling.

“To say we are disappointed with the sentence would be an understatement” said Werani Chilenga, Chairperson of both the Natural Resource Committee and the newly formed Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC).

Chilenga compared the judgements of trafficking cases to  other African countries from last year to illustrate the gap.

“In Zambia, a man receives 5 years in prison for 12.5kg of ivory, in South Africa 10 years and a $392,000 fine for 1 tonne, and in Kenya, $233,000 for a single tusk weighing 3.4kg,” he elaborated while drawing comparisons in terms of fines in neighbouring countries.  “Compare these to our recent sentencing and it is clear why Malawi is seen as a soft target for wildlife criminals.”

Chilenga’s sentiments were shared with Jonathan Vaughan, Director of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, at the MPCC launch, who said, “We welcome the tough talk on combating wildlife crime from all of the speakers. We are looking forward to working together with the MPCC to keep wildlife conservation issues on the agenda and to seeing the highest of political wills that we have heard today further translate into collaboration and action,” said Vaughan.

Director of Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, hoped that future sentences would be tough.

“The fine is the highest in the history of wildlife conservation. However we are aware that this is not commensurate with the sentencing of other countries, and with this in mind we look forward to the imminent review of the wildlife act and associated legislation.”

On April 2 2015, President Mutharika postponed the torching of 4.8 metric tonnes of ivory seized through law enforcement plus that from natural deaths of elephants in protected areas across the country.  The case in Mzuzu is believed to have influences the eleventh hour decision to abandon ivory burning at Parliament building in Lilongwe.  Analysts have said the bulk of the stockpile is poached ivory from range sites in neighbouring countries and that Malawi is being used as a conduit to the booming marketing of illegal ivory in South East Asia because of weak enforcement regulations.