Chief resident magistrate Violet Chipao of Lilongwe on Tuesday morning ordered the state to confiscate Qingdao Plastics company machines for continued production of banned plastics of less than 60 microns contrary to the Environmental Management (Plastics) regulations of 2015. Chipao has also given Qingdao plastics director Ma Xiao Ping one-month imprisonment suspended sentence for failing to comply with the law. Additionally, Mr Ping has been ordered not to commit any offence for 2 years.
Delivering the sentence Chipao noted the offence attracts a maximum of three months imprisonment but settled for a suspended sentence because as per current law the offence is considered as minor even though available literature suggest plastics have long term damaging effects on the environment.
The magistrate took time to highlight the dangers of thin plastics as highlighted in a 2019 publication by the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) titled " The case of banning plastics in Malawi".
In mitigation, the defence highlighter that Mr Ping was the first offender, pleaded guilty to the offence, cooperated with the police and that the company has acquired new machines to make plastics are not in conflict with the law.
While observing that the severity of the case is in the implications,Chipao somehow faulted the state for failing to raise aggravating factors and told the state advocate present in the court Julius Chogawana “ You can do better”.
Chogawana refused to grant an interview and efforts to talk to defence lawyer Luano Mwabutwa proved futile.
The confiscation of the machines comes against regulation 6 – (2) which states that “ The court may on conviction of a person for an offence under subparagraph (1), further make an order for confiscation or forfeiture of any equipment or property which is part of the subject matter of the offence”.
Ping, 43 was accompanied by three other Chinese nationals including an interpreter who was stopped from interpreting the sentencing midway to avert the confusion and instead, Chipao ordered the defence counsel to ask the interpreter to provide Ping with a summary of the sentence in the end.
Wildlife Environmental Society of Malawi (ESM) national chairperson Tawonga Mzumara Gawa has since described the outcome as fair noting there's indeed a great need to train the judiciary and police on existing environmental laws to help them put up good environment cases. In future, we need to start talking of having an environment court.
“ The confiscation of the machines will stop the making of thin plastics as you know the company has been defying government orders and went on with the manufacturing of illegal plastics despite the existing court case. We have also noted that issues to do with the recent arrests were not even incorporated in the case, it is important for the state to seek information and put in a little more effort to beef up their presentation in court” said Gawa.
The government of Malawi outlawed thin plastics in 2015 but most manufactures have been frustrating its implementation through court cases some of which have not been included.
In his maiden budget statement, Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu reaffirmed government’s commitment to enforcing the plastic ban.
The Government has since allocated 5 million kwacha for plastic ban enforcement and awareness activities in the 2020/2021 financial year an amount some environmental activists have described as inadequate devoid of matching government's commitment on the same.