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Tanzanians need explanation on this scandal

18th November 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

Yesterday we published a lead story about the $1.4 million (Sh2.24 billion) ivory tusks confiscated by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise department.

The confiscated container, which had 500 pieces of ivory tusks, was shipped from Dar es Salaam port, according to preliminary findings.

According to Reuters News Agency, the 500 pieces weighing 1,300 kilogrammes were found hidden in a shipping container that arrived in Hong Kong from Tanzania on Friday.

To put things into perspective, this means that a total of 250 elephants were illegally killed in Tanzania in order to export 500 pieces of tusks -- casting ugly doubts over the authority’s capacity to deter poaching.

But the seizure by Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department raises a serious question about what actually happened at the Dar es Salaam port where the tusks were shipped – possibly from early this month.

We are given to understand that all key government agencies responsible for inspecting, monitoring and verifying every item exported outside the country are posted at the Dar es Salaam port; they include the Tanzania Revenue Authority, Police and Intelligence, among others.

The Hong Kong government said customs officials are investigating the case and are still trying to find "the smuggling syndicate members." The container had been picked out for inspection based on "risk assessment," authorities said.

The seizure follows the roughly $3.4 million worth in ivory found in two shipping containers last month, one of the largest amounts ever seized in Hong Kong. Those containers arrived from Tanzania and Kenya, according to Hong Kong customs officials. The agency seized 1,209 pieces of ivory tusks and three pounds of ivory ornaments from the two containers, discovered over a period of two days.

More explanations are needed from the relevant authorities on how the container was shipped from Dar es Salaam without being detected. We are aware that the TRA officials approved the export declaration form presented by the local clearing and forwarding agent.

After verifying and approving the export declaration forms, the TRA officials sealed the container—an indication that they were fully satisfied with what was in the container.

Then the container went through rigorous inspection at the Dar es salaam port -- before it was shipped to its destination—Hong Kong. But, despite all these rigorous inspections, our TRA, security and port officials didn’t detect the ivory tusks hidden in that container.

The truth is that it’s simply untenable that an export of such dead cargo could ‘sail’ without assistance from some of our officials either from TRA, or security department at the Dar es Salaam port. What happened can only be summed in a word or two: corruption or gross negligence.

Tanzanians deserve better explanation than just mere statements from the concerned authority. They don’t just need explanation, but they also need to be held accountable -- all those responsible should be sacked.

Not just that; the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources should explain how all those 250 elephants were killed by poachers without a clue of detection.

How could the smugglers possibly smuggle the tusks from our national parks to Hong Kong?

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY