LILONGWE, Malawi 02nd February, 2022 (AEJ) - Supreme Court Judge Justice Lovemore Chikopa Tuesday heard an application from Golden Plastics Limited that has restricted government from implementing the thin plastics ban to contain wide spread proliferation of plastics on the environment. An earlier appeal by plastic manufacturers on the government instituted thin plastic ban of less than 60 micro meters was dismissed by High Court Judge Ken Manda of the commercial division.
Ironically, Chikopa already granted Golden Plastics an interim stay order while waiting for an inter-parte hearing, where the Attorney General and Golden Plastics were supposed to present their arguments.
To the unfair advantage of Golden Plastics, the "interim order" has matured to seven months from July 2021, when it was issued. This has irked some environmental activists who have described the development as worrisome, considering the fact that the Attorney General has on more than three occasions travelled to Blantyre to vacate the existing "interim" order, but the presiding judge has been adjourning sitting due to other commitments.
An example of such adjournments happened on December 15th, 2021. Lawyer representing Golden Plastics was not available for the case, a development that compelled Justice Chikopa to penalise Golden Plastics to pay travel expenses for the Attorney General's team from Lilongwe.
Golden Plastics is fighting through the courts the manner in which government gazetted the plastics regulations of 2015, challenging criteria for determining exempted plastics. The company and other manufacturers cites economic consequences that they will suffer as a result of the ban. An earlier appeal against the ban was dismissed by a lower court.
Chifundo Chinyama, legal counsel for Environmental Affairs Department, a government department that enforces the ban confirmed the case will proceed Tuesday and was optimistic the Attorney General’s application will be considered favourably by the courts because they have a solid case.
Chinyama believes Golden Plastics are playing games to buy time because most of the issues they are raising were already dealt with by the seven judges of the Supreme Court in August 2019. The hearing in 2019 took place after another protracted court battle on the same case. He was, however, worried that two years down the line, the actual copy of the ruling had not been made available to the Attorney General chambers and the department. He also said the court cases are delaying the total ban of thin plastics in Malawi.
He said: "By now we should have started implementing a total ban on thin plastics and concluded the partial ban that was effected in 2015 after exhaustive consultations that started as early as 2011 targeting all stakeholders, including plastic manufacturers, but the court cases have delayed everything."
"We can’t enforce the law, we can’t amend the regulations and that has really affected our progress, yet our friends within the region have made progress," he added.
Chinyama also revealed that both at regional and global level, discussions are at an advanced stage to establish an international treaty on the ban of thin plastics because of their growing threat to humanity and the environment.
Movement for Environmental Action (MEA) projects' lead, Innocent Sandram, has asked the courts to expedite the case and allow the government to enforce the ban.
For his part, executive director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA), Herbert Mwalukomo, says it’s high time everyone does their part diligently and closes this matter once and for all.
"It is not right that as a country we should be held at ransom by a few individuals who think their priorities matter more than the welfare of our people in Malawi." We have laws in this country that every business person is supposed to respect, but we wonder what is so special about these people that they could be fighting the same issue for seven years, yet they have been losing all the previous cases. We have trust that our court will deliver justice and close this matter, so we can make progress as a country," explained Mwalukomo in an interview.
Last year, civil society organisations meeting in Salima under the banner of the Civil Society Platform agreed on an undisclosed road map to ensure Malawi doesn't derail further with the implementation of thin plastics ban. The government outlawed the manufacturing, importation, and distribution of thin plastics with a thickness of less than 60 micrometres in 2015.