Monday, November 3, 2003
Forests: Were Leakey's Men the
BY JOHN MBARIA
KENYA's Environment and Natural
Resources Minister Dr Newton Kulundu has denied allegations that
the suspension of more than 829 forest officers less than a
fortnight ago targeted staff perceived to be allied to the former
head of the civil service and wildlife conservationist, Dr Richard
Dr Kulundu told The EastAfrican last
week that the exercise was intended solely to save the country's
forests and not, as is being widely alleged, to replace
senior officials, including the chief conservator of forests,
Gideon Gathaara, who are known to work closely with
conservationists allied to Dr Leakey.
The minister, who made no specific
allegation against Mr Gathaara, denied personalising the
suspensions. "We did not merely go for Mr Gathaara. We went
for the entire lot as we could not continue to see forests being
decimated while they did nothing though they were in charge,"
Mr Gathara, who initially worked
for the Kenya Wildlife Service as a forest programme co-ordinator,
is credited with exposing senior officials in the former
government who were behind the grabbing of Karura forest. He is
also said to have played a key role in exposing the destruction of
Mt Kenya forests when he authored findings on its first aerial
survey in 1989.
But his undoing, The EastAfrican
has established, was his affiliation to Dr Leakey, who was
seen to have been behind his appointment as chief conservatoir of
forests on May 8, 2002. Initially, the post had been offered to
George Ochieng, who now works as a deputy secretary in the
Environment Ministry. Mr Ochieng was interviewed and appointed to
the post by the Public Service Commission in May 2002. But after
one week in office, he was replaced by Mr Gathaara in unclear
Sources in the Environment Ministry
say Dr Kulundu has been uncomfortable with officers in both KWS
and in the main ministry who are perceived to be in the
"Leakey camp." This has been going on since May, when
the Environment Minister had a bitter public exchange with Dr
Leakey over what the minister saw as the latter's moves to
establish a $400 million Environment Endowment Fund "behind
the government's back".
To counter allegations that the
suspensions were related to this feud, Dr Kulundu revealed that,
with help from National Security Intelligence Service officers and
information volunteered by members of the public through hotlines
set up early this year, the ministry had compiled a list of the
misdeeds that each of the sacked foresters had committed.
"For instance, in Kaptagat, Kakamega and Mt Elgon forests, we
established that, in cahoots with illegal loggers, certain
foresters had gone to the extent of setting up saw mills deep
inside these forests."
Despite this, sources say that the
suspensions were done without the knowledge of Assistant Minister
Prof Wangari Maathai. Reports say that Prof Maathai, who has
maintained a low profile for months, has been sidelined by Dr
Kulundu because she is opposed to the manner in which he has been
handling the contentious issue of the proposed titanium mining in
The EastAfrican has
established that Dr Kulundu effected the suspensions, which have
been referred to as "retrenchment through the backdoor"
by the civil servants union, after an outcry that he was not doing
enough to stem the destruction being wrought by illegal loggers
with the covert backing of senior foresters.
"No one disputes the need for
the minister to reform the forestry sector, but the action taken
was too drastic," said a source at the Kenya Forestry Working
Group who declined to be named. He added that the minister's
action leaves forestry resources in greater danger than before as
district security teams "may be worse than foresters and are
not equipped with necessary conservation ethics."
But Dr Kulundu said that the
government had put in place effective mechanisms to protect
forests in the absence of the foresters. "It would be
foolhardy for any member of the provincial administration to
attempt any dealings in forest products."
Link : http://www.nationaudio.com/News/EastAfrican/03112003/Regional/Regional10.html
Often one can only detect the timberthiefs