MALAWI PASSES NEW ACT: UP TO 30 YEARS IN PRISON FOR WILDLIFE CRIME

PRESS RELEASE: LWT/GIZ

mpcc_4Malawi’s new National Parks & Wildlife Act was passed in Parliament today, giving courts the power to put serious wildlife criminals behind bars for up to 30 years with no option of a fine.

Hon Chilenga, co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus and Chair of the Natural Resource Committee, said, “This bill represents a major step change in Malawi’s fight against illegal wildlife trade, and we are thrilled that His Excellency the State President Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika and our fellow parliamentarians have prioritised the protection of our natural heritage.  The message is clear: wildlife crime is serious, and could land you in prison for a very long time.  We will not allow our nation’s natural heritage to be plundered by a few greedy individuals at the expense of the nation.”

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

Jonathan Vaughan, CEO of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, who also co-authored the IWT Review and sat on the Technical Committee for the Amendment Bill, said, “The IWT Review found that the risk-reward ratio was very much in favour of the criminal and the existing penalties simply acted as no deterrent at all. Given that ivory traffickers could expect to walk away from court with an average fine of $40 before 2015, it’s no wonder that Malawi was seen as a soft target for wildlife criminals and a weak link in the regional enforcement chain. But this new Amendment Bill is flipping that risk-reward ratio back in favour of the State.”

He continued, “Wildlife criminals operating in Malawi are already feeling the pressure thanks to the progressive work of the Malawi government and its partners. This new piece of legislation gives the authorities the power to take this much further.”

Last month for example saw two notable sentences passed – 8 years for the first ever conviction for dealing in rhino horn, and 4 years for the first police officers to be convicted for trafficking wildlife products. Even these sentences, however, are significantly more lenient than the likes of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, whose maximum prison sentences are 20, 25 and 40 years respectively. Kenya sentencing traffickers to life in prison.

Malawi’s new Wildlife Act has increased the maximum prison sentence to 30 years and has removed the option of a fine.  Definitions have been clarified and penalty provisions against hunting in protected areas has also been significantly strengthened which reflects the heavy depletion of wildlife populations.

Matthias Rompel, Country Director from GIZ who – on behalf of the German Government – funded both the IWT Review and NPWA amendment projects, said, “With this new legislation we can expect to see even stronger sentences, bringing Malawi into line with neighbouring countries.  Malawi can now boast some of the strongest wildlife legislation in the region.  All parties involved deserve congratulations for their diligence, tenacity and cooperation which helped to ensure that this bill has been passed in just 17 months.”

The first consultation phase started in September 2015 involving all relevant government agencies as well as other stakeholders such as local communities and NGOs. They were further consulted in the draft phases before submission to the Ministry of Justice in June 2016 and, after passing through several offices for approval, the Amendment Bill was endorsed by Cabinet on 23rd November. Today, the Minister of Natural Resources, Energy & Mining, Hon Bright Msaka, presented it to Parliament where it was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Mr Brighton Kumchedwa, Director of National Parks & Wildlife added, “The commitment of Malawi government here also reflects a wider understanding within the global community that the face of illegal wildlife trade is changing to one of serious organised crime with far reaching and devastating consequences, whilst also recognising the role that Malawi has previously played as a key transit hub for the trafficking of illegal wildlife products.”

A recent ETIS/TRAFFIC report named Malawi as one of the world’s emerging ‘countries of primary concern’ for its role as a major transit hub in the illegal ivory trade alongside Togo, Malaysia and Singapore. Malawi has significantly stepped up its fight against wildlife crime in the last few years with a number of initiatives including the country’s first specialised Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit and now this new legislation.  

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Recommendations to amend the act were initially made in the Illegal Wildlife Trade Review in May 2015.  The report was published by the Malawi government, it was co-authored by Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and funded by GIZ on behalf of the German Government. 

GIZ also went on to fund the amendment for the National Parks & Wildlife Act, which was led by a Technical Committee that consisted of:

  • Ministry of Justice
  • Department of National Parks & Wildlife
  • GIZ
  • Lilongwe Wildlife Trust
  • International Environmental Law Project

The consultation process was initiated in September 2015 and engaged the following stakeholders, amongst others:

  • Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (supported by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation who also supported MPCC conduct stakeholder consultations).
  • All government agencies represented on the Inter-Agency Committee for Combatting Wildlife Crime (including the Ministry of Justice, Department of Public Prosecutions, Malawi Revenue Authority, Department of Customs, Department of Immigration, Malawi Police Service).
  • NGO’s including African Parks Network, Wildlife Action Group, Wildlife & Environmental Society of Malawi.

The final draft was then submitted to the Ministry of Justice in June 2016 and then passed through the Senior Legislative Counsel, Attorney General’s Office, Solicitor General’s Office, Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy & Mining and the Parliamentary Committee for Legal Affairs.

It was approved by Cabinet on Wed 23rd November and passed in Parliament on Wednesday 6th December 2016.  View the full list of amendments here

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