City’s forests a free-for-all

The City’s “poorly managed” plantations have become a free-for-all with timber being stolen even in broad daylight. This was revealed at a recent executive committee meeting where councillors deliberated on the report for council to review its decision on the establishment of municipal entities for the plantation, the municipal market as well as airport and tourism.

Glenn McArthur said the DA supported the formation of the market, airport and tourism entities but it was on record opposing the forestry one. He said the City’s forest was poorly managed. “I don’t think that this municipality, or any municipality, in particular this one, has a good track of running business things. The possibility is that we should maybe get someone to run it for us as we’ve done in the past. If there’s a problem with so-called revenue earned, we should be taking that up with the municipal entity because we should have a proper contract with them as far as revenue goes.”

He told the committee that there were reports of “illegal forestry activity taking place” — including the cutting of trees — at the City’s plantation along Old Howick Road. He said this was happening on a regular basis but members of the public didn’t know where to report them.

Chief audit executive Petrus Mahlaba said last Sunday he also received a report that timber was being stolen and he sent investigators there.

He said he had photographic evidence of what was happening and the City management would be devising a strategy on how to tackle this. “I’ve since sent investigators and also crime intelligence to assist us because they are not doing it at night, it’s in daylight. We were informed that there is a tractor that comes to take the timber so I’ve asked them to do whatever needs to be done for those people to get arrested.”

The administrator, Sibusiso Sithole, said processes were not properly followed when council decided to form the municipal entities hence those resolutions now needed to be reviewed and possibly even rescinded. “... In particular forestry, because there’s been work that’s been done to look at whether we in fact do have any management capacity even internally to manage the forrest, we don’t. Now we are managing it through Ngubane (and Company), a firm of chartered accountants, who in themselves, I don’t believe have got competencies to manage a forest.”

Sithole said the municipality needed to go back to the drawing board to determine what was best for the forest and its management so that the City could reap the rewards. He said he got a sense that council did not even know what the overall financial performance of these entities was. “People are harvesting illegally as we speak. What it means really, is that we must go back to those decisions because I don’t believe they were in the best interest of the municipality.”

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