Monday, May 17, 2010
Published on 08/05/2010
By Alex Kiprotich
Despite raising the alarm more than a year ago on wanton destruction of the152,000-acre Lembus forest in Koibatek District nothing has been done.
The destruction of indigenous Podo and Mutarakwa trees is horrifying, especially in the Chemususu forest station where a multi-billion shilling dam is being constructed.
The locals are worried that the people mandated to manage, preserve, and conserve the environment are presiding over its destruction.
Forest officers have been caught colluding with saw millers in destroying the prized trees that have been in existence for hundreds of years.
Despite the cry of the locals, the forest continues to be a milking cow for people serving in the higher echelons of the forestry department and corrupt saw millers. Every time an officer is implicated, they are transferred to other stations and a new one is brought in.
Hundreds of acres of the forest are being plundered right under the nose of forest officers.
From the outside the forest appears intact but inside the evidence of decimation cannot be missed. Sawed wood lies uncollected on the floor of the forest. And it is not any tree. The targets are Podo and Cedar.
The forest officers, in the pretext of allowing excision of trees to pave way for the construction of the dam, are going beyond the demarcated boundaries.
Investigation by The Standard on Saturday revealed felling of trees outside the designated boundaries bordering the 250-acre dam site.
Freshly cut trees, sawn beams and huge logs lie everywhere. To show that the activities take place deep into the night, there are fireplaces.
Last week, Chemususu Forester Francis Ng’ang’a was arrested for allegedly supervising a saw miller harvesting trees beyond the permitted zone.
But the arrest brought into fore the high stakes involved after a senior forest officer preferred a charge, which, police officers have refused to prosecute arguing it cannot stand.
Joseph Leboo, the vice-chairman of the Lembus Council of Elders, says the forest has become a fertile ground for the who-is- who in the forestry department and timber merchants to enrich themselves.
"Foresters and saw millers are having a field day here because the Government seem less concerned," he says.
And despite numerous complaints from the locals to the ministry of forestry, Leboo says their cries have fallen on deaf ears.
The residents are warning that unless the Government takes action on the officers, they will be forced to eject them.
"We cannot continue this way as we see our natural resource being plundered by people who seem to be protected by the Government," he says.
The District Forest Officer (DFO) Anthony Musyoka is in a spot after officers under him were found in the company of a saw miller, harvesting trees.The saw miler ironically had a permit issued and signed by Musyoka.
Musyoka preferred a charge on Ng’ang’a, but the police have refused to prosecute the case alleging that the charge is weak and the case risks being thrown out of court.
"I will not allow my officers to be used to meet selfish ends of the corrupt. The charge is weak and cannot sustain a case and the suspects will walk scot-free," said Koibatek OCPD, Agnes Lihabi.
The charge brought against Ng’ang’a is interference in the forest.
"How does one interfere with his work? Isn’t that a plan to have the case thrown out of court?" quipped Lihabi.
Joseph Tyongik said it was unfortunate that the officers are plundering the forest with abandon.
"The officers must be investigated because this rot runs deep. We believe the foresters are not acting on their own," he says.
Tyongik, an elder, says it is high time the Government audited all the foresters in the eight stations making Koibatek forest. Most of them come from one community and it is alleged a senior officer in the ministry protects them.
Kenya Forestry Services head of corporate communication Raphael Mworia said they were not aware of the destruction and needed more time to investigate the claims.
Albert Chemitei says lorries ferrying the logs move during the night avoiding the Eldama Ravine-Nakuru road, which has roadblocks, but use a feeder road that passes through Rongai, which is not manned.
He said the loggers usually arrive in the evening and carry out their activities at night as forest guards turn a blind eye.
Saw millers who ferry the illegal logs and beams during the day issued permits indicating that they are carrying firewood. The beams are hidden under the firewood.
Residents are worried that the Government’s and environmentalists’ silence on the matter could lead to depletion of indigenous trees in the famed forest.
"We are afraid that this could be another Mau but we have nowhere to complain since the people we are supposed to complain to are the ones selling the trees," said Geoffrey Kokoyo a resident.
He said the loggers seem to be emboldened by the fact that all conservation efforts is concentrated in East Mau.
"If this is not checked, it won’t be long before the country cries that Koibatek is no more," he says.
To conceal the illegal activities, forest guards bar people from using footpaths within the forest and those caught are arrested.
Musyoka admitted that some of his officers had been implicated in colluding with illegal loggers but denied claims that his office protects them.
He, however, could not explain why an officer caught supervising the cutting of trees was still in office and his refusal to amend the charge as recommended by the police.
"Yes the officer was found abetting illegal logging. Any other thing, we are still investigating," he said.
Story Courtesy of EA Standard
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