Clumnist Gerald Kitabu this week interviewed Muheza Principal Forest Assistant Jackson Saria on corruption allegations levelled against district forest officials in the management of government forest reserves. Excerpts:
Q: Your office is being accused of issuing illegal permits to individuals, businessmen and companies to harvest timber in government forest reserves. How do your react to such claims?
Answer: Well, I have heard about the allegations levelled against my department. In fact, they are not true; they aim at tarnishing the image of our office. We're used to such allegations. After all, why don’t they produce evidence if they think so? We actually issue legal permits but some unfaithful businessmen tend to violate the rules and regulations -- sometimes they harvest more trees than what is stated in their permits.
Q: Why is it that some businesspersons claim to have legal permits from your office but when you look at their permits they are illegal?
A:Every person is looking for money to earn a living and have better life. So, people make every possible meansto facilitate their ill-gotten money.
Q: Why are they not arrested to deter other would-be culprits?
A: We're doing everything possible to fight the crime but our office lacks funds. Budgetary constraints limits our operations because we can't go out to make patrols. This situation has actually paralysed our operations in various government forest reserves in the district. We stopped conducting patrols since October last year due to lack of tools and other facilities like vehicles. We conducted the last patrol in October last year when the World Wild Fund (WWF) donated fuel for my private motorcycle.
Q: Why didn't you ask government to disburse some funds for your office?
A: We tried several times to no avail. I don’t know what is happening at the top but we have not given up; we're still waiting. Sometimes we are forced to accept an offer of transport from timber harvesters to go for inspection. A few days ago, we heard that a vehicle was ferrying illegal logs but we didn’t go to arrest the owner because we had no vehicle.
Q: You have talked of accepting transport offers from businessmen. Don’t you think that such offers are a form of bribery?
A: It's very unfortunate that we don’t have any other option. It also brings bad impression to that we're colluding with illegal forest harvesters. I am telling you that since October last year, I have been using my own motorcycle for patrols. It's very expensive because one has to travel for long distances.
Q: How many government forest reserves are there in Muheza district?
A: Muheza is endowed with various tree species and forest reserves which also serve as catchments areas. There are five of them -- Amani Forest reserve (2545 hectares), Tongwe (1201hectares ), Mlinga (810 hectares), Manga (1,635)and Derema (960 hectares).
Q: What are the challenges facing your office?
A: At Kwani Forest Reserve, Mbambala ward, we arrested eight illegal loggers and took them to court. To our surprise, the magistrate said it was a land case and that it should be referred to the land court. However, as I said earlier, lack of funds is a major challenge hindering our committee responsible for tree harvest to hold meetings regularly to deliberate on forest management. There is also the challenge of privately-owned forests where you find that some people are misusing them -- they don’t adhere to set regulations. They harvest more trees than what is stated in the permits.
Q: Why can’t you conduct participatory forest management ?
A: We were doing this for many years but the main problem is lack of funds to ensure there is efficiency in the programme.