HARARE, At least 22.1 million US dollars have been raised under the Afforestation Fund since its inception in 2015, but the money is lying idle because of the lack of the instruments to enable their utilization, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has revealed.

According to the law, every Statutory Fund should have a constitution that is approved by Parliament before the money collected under it is utilized.

In 2015, the government introduced a levy of 1.5 cents per kilogram of tobacco sold before reducing it to 0.75 cents per kilogram last year to fund the afforestation program following a realization that tobacco farming was causing massive deforestation. However, it was revealed here Monday that the TIMB was collecting the money in the absence of a constitution.

The government had initially appointed the Forestry Commission to manage the fund but the Ministry of Finance later changed that, giving the mandate to the TIMB, whose chief executive officer, Dr Andrew Matibiri, told Parliament Monday that a draft constitution for the fund was submitted to the Accountant-General last month who was working on it for presentation to Parliament.

There were a lot of discussions over who should administer the money. Not planting the trees but administration of the money. Farmers' organizations said they did not want the Forestry Commission to administer the money they wanted the TIMB to administer the money, he said while giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.

For 2015 and 2016 at least 14.2 million USD were collected by Zimra (the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) and so far for this year up to end of May a total of 7.9 million USD have been disbursed to the TIMB for afforestation. They have not disbursed for June so this year it's 7.9 million USD in the TIMB account.

Dr Matibiri said the TIMB was discussing with the Forestry Commission on ways to implement the afforestation programme. But the Forestry Commission had earlier on argued that it was the one entitled to run the fund since there was Cabinet Authority to that effect.

The Commission had even gone as far as having the fund constitution approved by Parliament, while a bank account had also been opened.

The Parliamentary Committee chairperson, Wonder Mashange, criticized the TIMB for collecting the levy without a constitution. We are really concerned. We need the terms of reference that gave you the mandate to collect the money, he said.

You are operating our afforestation fund illegally. There are no terms of reference to administer that fund, which means that fund is prone to abuse. How did you receive the funds without these legal instruments? What terms of reference were you using to receive that money?

Another member of the committee, Tapiwa Mashakada, said; In the absence of a constitution, this fund has been operating illegally because in terms of the law no Statutory Fund can be allowed to operate without the Parliament approving the constitution of that fund, it is illegal.

An estimated 300,000 hectares of forests are lost to deforestation every year, with tobacco farmers responsible for the loss of about 15 per cent of that.


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