Beggar blames “corrupt” border officials for the ill

13Feb 2016
Our Reporter
The Guardian
Beggar blames “corrupt” border officials for the ill

Danford Kanani will live to remember December 1, 2012, the day when his life changed from a reputed dealer in forest products with traders in Masasi, Mtwara and Dar es Salaam and an importer of timber from the neighbouring Mozambique, to the lowest of the low, now begging for a living.

Forest

At least, this is what he claims he had been driven into by corrupt customs officials on a Tanzanian-Mozambique border post.

In the previous seven years, Kanani had been doing cross-border timber trade from Mozambique through the Mtambaswala border post in Mtwara region, until his huge timber consignment was seized at the border post despite paying all tax dues.

“Authorities confiscated 2,571 pieces of timber which I had legally imported from Mozambique and when I had paid all the required taxes and duties. Ever since those guys claiming to have been not been implementing a law unfairly treated me, I have not been able to conduct any business,” he said recently in an interview.

He has been going to court ever since to answer charges on fraud, possession of illegal timber and conducting business using fake documents. He was not alone in the sage since he was not the only one importing timber from Mozambique at the time.

Then the rules were changed, prompting the government into making thorough scrutiny on all forest products imported into the country but whose owners were yet to clear their consignments from the customs premises at Mtambaswala, he says.

“When the exercise was over we were all required to pay an additional Sh5,000 for each piece of the seized timber. While some paid extra for which no receipts were provided, I refused to pay because it was it was off the taxation record,” he says, implying corruption among the customs officials.

About four years later, Kanani still laments on the corruption mystery behind the cross-border trade in timber and other forest products between Mozambique and Tanzania, but with no end in sight.

He attributes the situation to legal loopholes in laws governing importation of forest products from neighbouring countries, saying the laws do not clearly spell out the requirement giving room for stakeholders including customs officials to impose self-jurisdiction.

“Some traders get their goods cleared without hitches while others have to pass through bureaucratic bottleneck,” he says.

Mashaka Juma Waziri is one of the traders in forest goods who operate in Masasi town but frequently imports timber from Mozambique.

He says traders are not happy with the practice where one has to pay many taxes to various authorities namely, Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) and the Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS).

“We know that TRA is the right organ mandated to collect taxes but we also see TFS demanding the same and none has told us why,” he said, accusing the agency of promoting illegal timber trade.

dding that the agency promotes illegal timber trade as it legalizes contraband consignments of timber in the forests.

Dickson Kambuga, a timber trader at Ikwiriri in Rufiji District, Coast Region says the government through TFS often sets up rules and procedures of conducting business unilaterally without consulting the traders, fueling illegal trade and tax evasion for individual ends.

He argued that the prices of fresh logs and the amount of timber one can get from a log are set by TFS without the participation of the traders. Likewise the amount of furniture one can produce from particular pieces of timber is also set by TFS and their estimates always differ from actual situations on the ground.

Traders believe that TFS unilaterally-sets procedures to acquire raw materials and the price of such raw materials without taking onboard their views and opinions make trade in forestry products difficult and drive them into illegal trade engagement and tax evasion, he says.

Deputy TFS Manager for the Southern Zone Boaz Sanga says that the agency is solely responsible for the management of forest resources including protection and reinforcement of boundaries.

“TRA is the right institution to charge and collect all taxes and levies related to trade in forestry products. TFS only gives Transit Passes to traders who have paid all their dues to TRA,” he explains.

Regarding cross-border trade between Mozambique and Tanzania, Sanga says that the agency has introduced new measures in dealing with illegal trade. They include selection of six traders to engage in the cross-border timber trade, but Sanga was short of spelling out the procedure and criteria used in the selection.

During the Third East Africa Timber Trade Stakeholders’ Forum held in Zanzibar from June 29 to 30, 2015 it came to light that both local and cross-border illegal timber trades were on the increase, but Tanzania was losing around US$8.33m annually from the trades
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While it was agreed at the meeting that illegal timber trade was fueled by the uneven balance between domestic supply and demand of timber products, delegates also acknowledged the need to reduce bureaucracy in acquiring licenses for the timber trade as well as making the tax regime friendlier to timber traders so as to reduce tax evasion.