CHIMANIMANI – State-owned agro-industrial concern, Allied Timbers (AT)’s plantations, are reportedly being plundered by syndicates belonging to employees, State security agents and hordes of contract timber saw-millers, Zim Morning Post can report.
AT’s losses could run into millions as it is reportedly making only a small fraction out of the thousands of cubic metres of timber being harvested at its plantations in Chimanimani, with the bulk of the timber allegedly being smuggled out.
Some remote sections of the plantations are said to be overrun by violent gangs, with the police two months ago reportedly fatally shooting one of the illegal lumbers in a run-in with one of the gangs in Tarka.
The syndicates are said to be using contract sawmillers as fronts so that they gain access to the plantations.
Currently, AT are said to have no capacity to carry out timber milling, resulting in them hiring contract millers to do the milling before reportedly sharing the sawn timber with the contractors at a ratio of 3:2 in favour of AT.
The contract miller is said to provide everything, from stump to dump, implying that they do the felling of pine trees, skidding (pulling of logs to the roadside) and finally milling, so the contract miller provides and maintains own chainsaws, tractors, and the mill, including paying for all the costs involved.
Ordinarily, if the deal is adhered to, the contract millers would lose out while AT benefits.
But observers say this would just be a con as all the contract miller would be eying for is access to the timber plantations in order for them to steal timber.
“They invade the plantations in groups, and at times harvest some sections without approval from Allied or connive with some managers within Allied Timbers.That’s when they start reaping profits by milling undeclared timber, and usually it’s a war,” said an AT employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“At times they mill in the wee hours of the night, bring their equipment to undesignated areas and harvest like there’ is no tomorrow,” the employee added.
The syndicates are said to involve underpaid disgruntled managers and low-level employees, including genuine and bogus State security agents.
“Guns are a common sight in these activities, and there have been real wars in the fight for territories by different groups, depending on who is backing you,” a contract saw miller employee, interviewed by Zim Morning Post in a recent tour of Tarka Forest, revealed.
While some cases are pending at the courts, law enforcement agents and State-enterprise employees are reportedly taking advantage of the chaos to make a killing of the plantations.
Efforts to get a comment from AT were fruitless by the time of going to Press but since Zim Morning Post began probing for answers, contractors in Tarka have reportedly been suspended from carrying out any work.