African Parks (AP) Malawi office has protested government's decision to start taxing capital assets imported to support the conservation efforts in Majete Game Reserve. The move is seen as a breach of a concession agreement they have with Malawi government that provides for tax waivers on capital assets. Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) stopped honoring the agreement in 2021. AP claims neither MRA nor treasury have officially communicated reasons for the change. AP's country director, Samuel Kamoto, confirmed that they have been having difficulties clearing fencing equipment with MRA. According to Kamoto, this has slowed plans to repair vandalized sections of the fence in Majete Game Reserve, as well as plans to erect additional fence to prevent animals from wreaking havoc in nearby settlements.
AP says this is also likely to affect plans to procure additional enforcement vehicles in Majete Game Reserve which has been revamped to big five status following massive investments in the past 19 years. Efforts to resolve the matter with Malawi Revenue Authority, Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Treasury have not yielded positive returns but negotiations have not collapsed.
‘’We have been engaging DNPW and the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), but it is quite discouraging that we have not made any progress. We explained everything we needed to explain, submitted the best documentation we had, and recently we have been told the issue is in the hands of treasury’’ said Kamoto at a recent annual stakeholders meeting where they report progress on operations.
In a separate interview, DNPW director Brighton Kumchedwa acknowledged to have intervened and worked with treasury on the matter. ‘’There appears to be some misunderstandings regarding some figures and concession issues but we are hopeful that the matter will be resolved soon. On our part, we tried to engage treasury on so many occasions until we reached a stage where treasury opted to deal with AP directly” said kumchedwa When questioned if AP had started paying concession fees to the government of Malawi, Kumchedwa revealed that the existing contract for Majete specifies that they can only start remitting concession fees when they break even, which has not been achieved for the past 19 years.
Each of the three parks that AP has been in charge of maintaining—Majete Game Reserve, Lilwonde National Park, Mangochi Forest Reserve, and Nkhotakota Game Reserve—costs about $2.5 million or 2.5 billion kwacha yearly, which is significantly less than the annual revenue earned. In 2022, Liwonde National Park generated $465,109, or 480 million kwacha, whereas Majete earned $617,000, or 640 million kwacha, in annual revenue.
Ministry of Finance spokesperson Taurai Banda has confirmed there are some outstanding issues between AP and Malawi government and that a meeting has been arranged to provide feedback to AP and resolve concession issues.
Werani Chilenga, chair of parliamentary committee on natural resources, acknowledged receiving a briefing on the issues and confirmed to have already engaged the two sides. "We cannot thank them for all the work they have done by charging duty on fence wires and other items, this should be remedied," said Chilenga.
Leonard Sefu, a retired director of parks and a wildlife conservationist, chided the government's decision and urged it to trade cautiously because AP significantly raises enormous resources that have helped to revamp the three protected areas and that all of the little revenue they generate is reinvested in Malawi. "In as far as I am concerned, African parks are doing a wonderful job and the kind of conservation work they are doing requires massive investment to put up robust infrastructure and enforcement to reduce human wildlife conflict which the government failed to do. "AP is conserving a heritage for Malawians; they are not for profit and have done a lot in improving a tourism resource for Malawi, among many other benefits," Sefu explained. On March 28, 2003, AP and the Malawi government signed a concession agreement. AP's major conservation efforts include the translocation of nearly 800 elephants and the restocking of some of the parks with Lions, Cheetahs, wild dogs which were later poisoned, Rhinos, and Leopards, among others.