Timber producers offer to assist in removal of illegal settlers

The timber industry has called for the removal of illegal settlers and a halt to all invasions of timber plantations in order to avert total collapse of the sector and a permanent damage to the environment.

Jospeh Kanyekanye, the chairman of TPFZ: Government must realise that ZESA is badly run.
Jospeh Kanyekanye, the chairman of TPFZ: Government must realise that ZESA is badly run.

The industry has even offered to help with the relocation of the invaders, says the Timber Producers Federation of Zimbabwe. “Illegal settlers must be removed with timber companies and Provincial Ministers tasked with relocating the families in 90 days,” said Jospeh Kanyekanye, the chairman of TPFZ told The Zimbabwean.

In addition, he called for a two-kilometre buffer zone to be created between the forests and rural settlements to avoid disasters that can be caused by fires.

Illegal settlers invaded the timber forests as part of the government’s controversial land grab and the issue is just one of the many problems besetting the industry. “The local industry is showing signs of going under, with timber merchants and furniture manufacturers mostly affected. It is pertinent to note that the modest production increases in 2008 to 2013 are no way near the 2001 levels of production, implying that the sector is in a slow recovery mode with signs of real growth still far way,” Kanyekanye said.

While many of the problems were caused by external factors the onus was also on industry to modernise. Employment in the sector has gone down by half from 10,000 in 2001. Labour costs are way too high and retrenchments packages are unrealistic,” he added.

The former Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president said the timber sector had also been hit hard by power problems. “Government must realise that ZESA is inefficient, badly run and charges industry levies that are above regional tariffs – hence the need to license private importers of power as is the case in Zambia,” he said. “We need to persuade industry to work at night to access off-peak power which is available and cheaper than peak power. We should also realise that the new power projects being touted are yet to be designed – let alone constructed.”

Kanyekanye also said Manicaland should get a “special economic zone status” as the province was home to the country’s biggest tea, coffee, diamond and timber production.

This model had been successfully implemented in other areas such as Xiamen province in China, he said. Export Processing Zone incentives would will allow value addition in diamonds, timber and fruits to occur under a mutually agreed production target by sector leaders.

Kanyekanye said Mutare should be included in the diamond value chain. “It is also important that the town be allowed production sharing status in the mining industry as its local revenue base is diminished by de-industrialisation,” he said.

Mutare should reinvent itself as a regional dry port, he added.

Kanyekanye also said there should be compromise on debts owed by industry. “Utilities must allow debt forgiveness for any debt in excess of 12 months and allow outstanding dues to be spread out over 12 months in order to rescue some firms on the verge of collapse or liquidation,” he said.

He urged the resuscitation of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum and said all National Employment Councils should “go for productivity linked wages” to solve labour issues. “Provincial ministers must be compelled to create advisory boards drawn from economic players to put up recovery blue-prints as opposed to the fashionable central government planning which is no longer relevant,” he said.

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