Distinguished Guests, Honorable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my key talking points today I want to expand on how the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus has had a positive impact in terms of conservation governance since its launch in 2015:
First, MPCC has helped to push conservation issues to the top of the public agenda…
On a most basic public awareness level, MPCC is able to secure media coverage where NGO’s may struggle. For example, on the enforcement of the new wildlife legislation, we have been praising the judiciary for strong sentences passed, voiced our disappointment over weak sentences and raised concerning cases in Parliament for debate.
We are also in a position to engage the highest levels of government directly in conservation issues. For example, in April this year we co-hosted a visit for His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester from the UK which included a dinner with our Patron, the President.
This high-level engagement is critical for ensuring top-down support for conservation, which brings me to my second point, that…
MPCC is complimentary to other initiatives
Malawi has taken huge strides forward in the fight against illegal wildlife trade in the past few years with a record number of wildlife criminals being apprehended and put behind bars.
Rates of arrests for wildlife trafficking are 13 times higher since the launch of the new Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit, and sentences of up to 18 years being passed as a result of the new justice programmes and wildlife legislation. In comparison, not a single custodial sentence was passed between 2008 and 2015.
MPCC are not the instigators or implementers of these initiatives, but high-level Parliamentary support has been critical in maximising support and minimising ‘interference’.
MPCC is not just a talking shop: we are delivering results
For example, the MPCC was critical in advocating for the Wildlife Act Amendment Bill which increased maximum sentences to 30 years. We are all well aware of the competition for new legislation to be tabled in Parliament and the debates that can delay their progress, and this was the fastest passing of any Act in the history of Parliament.
We can apply this success to other areas beyond illegal wildlife trade, and guide the conservation agenda
MPCC’s primary focus has been to support the illegal wildlife trade agenda, the current programme being sponsored by World Bank GEF and US Fisheries and Wildlife Services. We are now in a position to widen our programme to tackle forestry, fisheries, mining and pollution and apply the same lessons from our successes to date to these areas. We are currently pushing for the Forestry Act Amendment Bill which has been delayed for over 5 years now.
We are building capacity
Conservation is viewed by many in Malawi as a luxury and there is limited understanding of its importance and application. So, educating the MPs that are not only debating issues in Parliament but also leading their constituencies has to be a priority.
Beyond workshops and presentations, field trips have very much proven their worth. On an MPCC trip to Liwonde National Park last year, it became apparent that only a small number of the 50 MP’s had ever seen an elephant. There is nothing like seeing wild animals in the wild to promote pride in our natural heritage. I could tell a similar story about trips organised by tobacco companies to their sustainable afforestation projects: members left inspired about what could be achieved in their own districts.
The unique model that allows for government agencies, non-profits and corporates…
…has allowed for a level of engagement which has not been possible before. We are currently bringing together multiple government agencies as well as NGO’s through our programme tackling corruption that is leading to the plundering of our forests and wildlife, and we have rekindled relationships that had soured between the leading tobacco companies and some of the government’s regulatory bodies. Last month we led a meeting with CSO’s, the Environmental Affairs Department and the plastics companies where the government is seeking to ban thin plastics.
What’s more the independence of the Caucus has been of benefit when it comes to moving quickly and independently, unlike the restrictions of a parliamentary committee. MPCC has very much complimented the work of the Natural Resources Committee, and we have emphasised the importance of the cross-partisan approach.
The past three years have not been without challenges.
Engagement of the full MPCC membership is difficult with limited funds and the varying motivations of individuals. There are often competing priorities, especially in the lead up to our upcoming elections, and elections can lead to the loss of our most active members.
And whilst changing policy and legislation is one thing, implementation is another and so our job as MPCC needs to go further than the floors of Parliament. We must work in collaboration with other organisations to secure both funding and delivery.
But all these challenges are surmountable and as a caucus we shall continue to address them and work to overcome them.
Finally, I would like to thank ICCF for their support thus far, it has been a very productive year and with continued commitment we are confident that we can build on our successes to date: supporting good conservation governance that translates into sustainable management of our natural resources for the benefit of both people and wildlife.