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Task force reveals graft, impunity in forestry service

George Kebaso @Morarak

Kenya Forest Service (KFS) directors, including former ones, risk prosecution and possible jail terms for allegedly presiding over plunder and mismanagement of the country’s forest resources. The taskforce investigating the wanton destruction of the country’s forests has recommended the immediate sacking of all KFS board of directors in its interim findings that took 14 days.

The second phase of the taskforce’s work commenced yesterday and is expected to wind up investigations by April 9. While handing over its initial findings to Environment Cabinet secretary Keriako Tobiko on Monday evening, the taskforce also recommended a lifestyle audit of previous and current conservators of the forests.

The taskforce chairperson, Marion Wakanyi, said what they came face to face with during the two-week probe is unacceptable, adding it was evident that under the supervision of senior employees of the forest department and water towers has been left bare.

Members of the team include Environment Institute of Kenya vice chair Linda Munyao, Rhino Ark executive director Christian Lambrechts, Kenya Association of Manufacturers CEO Phyllis Wakiaga and Kenya Water Towers Agency chair Isaac Kalua.

“We were not happy with the work that has been carried out in the forests. This has been supervised by officers in the forest department, all who, from the lowest to the highest cadres, are culpable. Poor governance, corruption, unfair businesses practice and stealing of government resources as well as destruction of forests has been rampant,” said Wakanyi.

The hard-hitting report showed that forest officers in some areas failed to record the money generated from sale of trees. “We were horrified that senior employees of the forest department cheat that they have given out about 10 hectares of forest blocks for logging, yet they end up accounting for only two hectares.

They could literally pocket proceeds from eight hectares,” she said summing up the situation as “horrifying”. According to the taskforce’s findings, some of the forests don’t even appear on the financial records of KFS, with millions of shillings in value income remaining unreceipted.

“This shows that as a country we don’t even know the stock and value of our forests,’’ she added. As first remedial steps, the interim probe report proposed a total overhaul of the whole forestry management system, prosecution of officers involved in the theft and recovery of stolen resources whether in physical or monetary value.

The task force acknowledged that the penalties against plunder of forest resources were mild and recommended to Parliament to review them under the Forests Act-2016 to make them more punitive. “Those found to have plundered forest resources will be prosecuted and compelled to return the proceeds,” Wakanyi said. Tobiko received the report as the task force narrowly beat the Monday deadline.

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