BY VENERANDA LANGA
THE Forestry Amendment Bill, now before Parliament, seeks to impose mandatory sentences of up to five years for people who deliberately cause veld fires.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Concillia Chinanzvavana (pictured), recently told NewsDay that the Bill, which will be subjected to public hearings, is being amended because the previous Act is archaic.
“The issue with the current Forestry Act is that it is too old and does not cater well for the country’s forest concerns,” Chinanzvavana said.
“The mischief to be addressed by the proposed amendments in the Bill will be the problem of veld fires which is now getting out of hand, and the nation is losing millions of hectares of forest to veld fires, including nationally gazetted forests,” she said.
Veld fires have killed 122 people across Zimbabwe since 2005, which has resulted in government declaring the period between July and October of each year a fire season to raise awareness on the dangers caused by veld fires.
She said the Bill will amend the Forestry Act (Chapter 19:05) to enhance the protection of forests from veld fires through introduction of mandatory and deterrent sentences, as well as to recognise the aggravating consequences of veld fires, such as death and damage to property and make provision for their prosecution in terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23).
The clause seeks to remove the option of a fine in preference of a minimum mandatory sentencing system for wilfully lighting fires on State or private forests that cause damage.
“Clause 12 seeks to introduce a mandatory fine for fire offences resulting from smoking or negligent use of matches,” reads the Bill.
Section 78 of the Forestry Act will also be amended to include major offences by including sections which stipulate that where damage has been wilfully caused, imprisonment for a period not less than five years, or in any case, to imprisonment for a period of not less than one year will be imposed for causing veld fires.
“The court shall take into account such aggravating factors as loss of human life, livestock, wildlife and other property,” reads the Bill.