Raiply Malawi Limited, which currently manages the 20,000-hectare concession area in the Viphya Plantation at Chikangawa in the Mzimba district, has brazenly and illegally added 8550 hectares to its concession, making it 28850 hectares, much to the chagrin of indigenous players and locals.

This revelation is contained in a 22-page report by an independent consultant to assess the Viphya Plantation boundaries in the concession areas. Ironically, the Department of Forestry collaborated and participated in the exercise.

At US$10 per hectare as ground rent, it means Raiply Malawi Limited has defrauded the Malawi government of revenues amounting to to US$ 256,500 from 2020 to date and the government will continue to lose US$85,550 per year if this malpractice is not nipped or corrected.

The comprehensive report dated 20th October 2023, has been submitted to the Director of Forestry at Capital Hill, Malawi’s seat of government for action and consideration.

“The project’s primary objective was to verify and resolve ongoing boundary disputes among concessionaires within Viphya Plantations, Mzimba District. Our team, comprising 18 forestry personnel who recently underwent GIS and Remote Sensing training under the Malawi Watershed Services Improvement Project (MWASIP), engaged in this exercise.

The report includes comprehensive details of the methodologies, data collection processes, spatial analysis, findings, and recommendations. We believe the insights provided in the report will be valuable for the DOF in enhancing the management of concession areas in Viphya Plantations,” reads part of the report.

The Reformed Timber Millers Union (RTMU) said it was wrong for Raiply Malawi Limited to disregard local laws and agreements as it wishes saying the company’s actions smacked of collusion at the highest levels of government.

“Did the company give itself the 8550 hectares? We do not subscribe to this line of thinking,” RTMU President Alfred Adams said at a press conference held in Mzuzu on Tuesday.

When contacted for comment, the venerated Raiply Malawi Limited CEO Krisnadas Nair Puthiyedah defended his company saying it had documentation to support the alleged 8550-hectare ‘encroachment’ or ‘theft’.

“The assessment of Viphya Plantation’s concession boundaries underscores the critical importance of stakeholder collaboration to reduce or eliminate errors in boundary delineation. This necessity extends beyond Viphya Plantations, encompassing all protected forest areas in Malawi.

The evaluation highlights the imperative role of the Department of Forestry (DOF) in taking proactive measures to monitor gazetted forestry areas, promptly identify existing challenges and discrepancies, and expedite their resolution, “the report reads.

In 2020, the Malawi government gave Raiply Malawi Limited carte blanche in the management of its 20,000-hectare concession area, when the government bowed out of the management of the famed Viphya Plantation.

The development meant the foreign-owned company had relieved the Malawi government of maintenance and law enforcement costs.

The government’s role among others when the agreement took effect in November 2020, evolved from hands-on to merely; supporting law enforcement, monitoring compliance with set standards and codes of practice, approving management plans and providing policy and technical guidance

The major 2020 amendments to the 2009 concession agreement included the following; upfront payment for all trees and wood that had been inventoried in the concession area, exclusive rights and denial of third-party access to forestry resources in the concession area and payment of concession fees and other rates.

The Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance, the Public Private Partnership Commission and Government Contracting Unit in consultation with Raiply comprised the stakeholder team that made these amendments.