By Yves S. and Riana Raymond
Involvement of a regional forests director…
The former parliamentarian for Mahabo, the former regional forests director of Morondava and an army general have been named. They are indeed thought to have been involved in a case of illegal transport of wood in the Region of Menabe. Their names were brought up by everyone, without exception, from the local officers to the timber operators whom we interviewed for our investigation. Among those who disclosed this affair are the police who, on the 25th of November 2018 in Antsirabe, intercepted a Sprinter type car of the Morondava Dredd (Direction Régionale de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable) [Regional Directorate for the Environment and Sustainable Development] loaded with worked palisander wood. However, a valid traffic clearance had not been given for the transport of this wood, and the police was informed of the presence of a suspicious vehicle loaded with precious wood. When they stopped the car, the police effectively noticed the presence of palisander wood. The paperwork authorising the operation was outdated. « The transporters used a wood transportation authorisation dated from 13th to 20th November. We immediately seized the car and the wood. We informed the owner who sent us new paperwork to rectify the old documents which were not legal », the officers in Antsirabe explained us.
« The way that this official acted [Editor’s note: the director of the Morondava Dredd] is rather surprising. The police said that this car often illicitly transported wood through Antsirabe, but this time, the police finally stopped it », explained the same officers. People transporting wood from Menabe are accustomed to regularising documents only once an infraction has been discovered, the authorising documents being signed afterwards by the director of the Morondava Dredd.
In an interview in March in Morondava, the director of the Morondava Dredd, Mrs Andoniaina Nirisoa, did not deny that the car and the wood that were intercepted in Antsirabe belonged to her. According to her, the departure of the car was delayed for three days due to a mechanical problem. « The car is mine, and so is the worked wood. They were planks and staircases that were going to Ambositra. But the car had mechanical problems and couldn’t leave on the date mentioned in the authorisation. The officers in Antsirabe requested the documents to certify that the load was regular, and when they received them, they allowed the car and the wood to leave, which is now in Ambositra », she explained. However, she denies accounts that her car was frequently used for transporting wood, and, on the contrary, claims that it was the first and only time that she used her car for this purpose. It is however worth noting that the seizure of the Dredd director’s car took place during the period that saw a total ban imposed not only on palisander wood cutting operations, but also on the transportation of worked palisander wood, which was declared by the government at the start of the year.
…As well as a former parliamentarian
The former parliamentarian for Mahabo, Raveloson Ludovic, known as Leva, is also one of the names circulating in connection with the affair. Information on his presumed involvement emerged in Antsirabe. There is namely talk of trucks belonging to this former parliamentarian. « On the 14th and 15th of February, we received information on red and yellow-coloured trailer-trucks, with licence plates 2307 TBJ and 6954 TBF, belonging to this parliamentarian, which are thought to have left Morondava transporting palisander wood. So we waited for them for two consecutive nights in Antsirabe, but the trucks never came. They were likely tipped off and that is why they did not drive through. We are still gathering information about them. On 28th February, rosewood was seized in Mandoto », according to explanations provided by police officers in Antsirabe.
An employee who worked for eight years with the ex-parliamentarian claims that the parliamentarian previously worked in the export of this wood. « There is a collaboration between him and the authorities in Morondava, including the regional forests director and the head of the Region », said this employee of the parliamentarian who is perfectly aware of his business methods. According to him, the former parliamentarian and his collaborators are protected by a powerful network that makes them untouchable.
…And an army general acting as a middle man
An army general supposedly plays the role of middle man in this affair of precious wood trafficking. The name of the retired general Tatanjaky is indeed often mentioned. Apparently, he is the one who protects the wood transporters who take the national road no .34. The people we spoke with also gave the name of a lady called general Lala who holds a despot’s sway over the wood industry. « The drivers just have to say that the trucks belong to the general, and no-one stops them », explained those we interviewed, namely the former head of the Region and an employee of the ex-parliamentarian for Mahabo. The officers in Antsirabe also maintain that a general is helping the traffickers.
The former parliamentarian Leva, elected for Mahabo, told us that he is no longer in the wood business since the government banned it. « My wife, my children and I are rice and maize businesspeople. We don’t do precious wood business or lumbering, and I’m even fighting against deforestation. We already volunteered to collaborate with the regional forests director in Morondava, but it did not come off because they weren’t ready », states the former parliamentarian.
Law enforcement authorities are said to be searching for evidence
Security officers recently assigned in Morondava, such as the police chief superintendant Razafindranony Honorée, the gendarmerie, and even the attorney general for Morondava, all claim that they are searching for evidence on the people who are regularly mentioned in affairs of wood exploitation. Each one of these officers in Morondava has a list of those names, but evidence is insufficient. Moreover, there is no plaintiff in these affairs. Reports note arrests, involving wood seized from various places such as Tsimahavao, Beloha and Ankiridihy. However, no reliable information has been obtained on the persons commissioning the trafficking.
Blame game or complicity?
State officials in the Menabe region appear to be passing each other the blame and responsibility for this situation. Some of them are thought to be involved themselves in the wood trafficking, and that is why there is widespread suspicion. The timber operators themselves are not above suspicion: they heap invective on each other and name each other as being in charge of the wood trafficking or of providing the paperwork for the transport authorizations. For instance, an operator called « Mon ami » told us that it costs 40 million ariary to obtain the paperwork authorising the precious wood to be released. These authorisations then change hands for amounts of up to 200 million ariary. The market between those who buy the authorisations, those who have authority and parliamentarians seems to fuel corruption.
At the beginning of May, all the regional directors for the Environment and Sustainable Development were removed from their posts and replaced after a decision by the Council of Ministers. Among them was the director of the Morondava Dredd, who was appointed to another region.