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Authorities have indicated that wildlife criminals can expect stiffer penalties from July onwards, thanks to progress made on the amendment bill for the National Parks & Wildlife Act (NPWA).

Legislation was highlighted as a key weakness in combatting wildlife crime by Malawi’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Review published in May 2015, and whilst a full update for the NPWA has been recommended and approved, an amendment bill has been expedited in particular to clarify legal definitions and strengthen penalty provisions.

The NPWA taskforce was formed in November 2015 and is led by the Ministry of Justice. It also includes the Department of National Parks & Wildlife (DNPW), the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) within the Malawi Police Service and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.  Funding was provided by the German Government through GIZ and the project is also supported by the International Environmental Law Project (IELP).

National consultations have been held with wildlife sector stakeholders across the country, including the Inter-Agency Committee to Combat Wildlife Crime (IACCWC, incorporating twelve law enforcement agencies) and the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus. The final round of consultations was completed last week.

Rumbani Jere, Senior Legislative Counsel for the Ministry of Justice, said, “Thanks to the support and hard work of all stakeholders involved I have every confidence that the amendments could be passed at the next parliament sitting in July. Empowering the courts to pass stiffer sentences is critical given the increasing prevalence and severity of wildlife crimes being committed.”

Hon. Major, MP for Kasungu West and co-chair of the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus (MPCC), said, “Some of the recent court cases have been embarrassing when you compare the sentencing to that of neighbouring countries.  Just last week in Tanzania two traffickers went to prison for 30 years in lieu of a $2.5 million fine for their part in trafficking 1.9 tonnes of ivory.  Malawi gave a $5000 fine or 7 years in prison for a haul of 2.6 tonnes. It is high time that we cracked down on these wildlife criminals who are threatening our national security as well as our natural heritage and this amendment bill will have our full support in Parliament.”

Jonathan Vaughan, Executive Director for Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, who also sits on the review committee, added, “There has been an encouraging move towards custodial sentencing of wildlife criminals, for example last month two brothers were collectively sentenced to 7 years in prison for possession of 8kg of ivory with no choice of a fine.  However the current legislation can only go so far and stiffer sentences are needed to provide a deterrent for would-be wildlife criminals. Coupled with the delivery of other anti-trafficking initiatives like ivory detection dogs and the new wildlife crime investigations unit, we can expect to see a significant step change up in Malawi’s fight against wildlife crime.”

Matthias Rompel, GIZ Country Director, praised the committee for their work by saying, “I have been most impressed with the swift and thorough efforts of the task force. To pass an amendment bill in such a short time frame would be a great accomplishment. Together with positive political will and concrete results on the many other initiatives in progress, it could make a significant contribution to transnational efforts in combatting illegal wildlife trade and also drive donor confidence.”