By Peter Nyanje, The Citizen, 03 May 2013
Dodoma. The government has been urged to pull out all the stops in dealing with poachers, even if it means slapping the culprits with the death sentence. Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament Freeman Mbowe told Parliament yesterday that the government must make hard choices if it is to address poaching squarely and refuse to be held back by fears of a backlash from the international community.
Mr Mbowe was contributing to the Natural Resources and Tourism budget, which Parliament passed last night. He told the government that poaching was a big issue and it was time to make tough choices.
“The (Parliamentary) Committee (on Land, Natural Resources and Environment) has told us that research shows that if the situation persists, elephants will be gone in seven years’ time,” he said. “That is not information that we should not take lightly.”
Parliament approved the ministry’s Sh75.681 billion budget in which Sh64.033 billion and Sh11.648 billion has been set aside for recurrent and development expenditure, respectively.
Winding up debate on the proposals, Natural Resources and Tourism minister Khamis Kagasheki said President Jakaya Kikwete had ordered a major operation to curb poaching in the country.
“What we are planning is major assault this country has not witnessed,” he said.
He did not go into detail, but hinted that the operation would involve the military, adding that inter-ministerial talks on preparations were going on.
“I don’t want to say when the operation will begin because we don’t want to alert those engaged in this illegal business, but I can assure you that it will make Operation Uhai (carried out in the 1980s) look like a small thing,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Mbowe, who is the Chadema national chairman, said poaching had been “left to grow” because high ranking officials within Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the government are involved. He added: “There is no political will to address this problem because leaders and political party cadres are involved in it. There is a need to mount a special operation to save our elephants. It should involve the ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Tourism.”
He suggested that the poaching network has been a hard nut to crack because officials in the state security organs were involved. “Under such circumstances, you cannot break the network by doing the same things every day,” Mr Mbowe said. “It is time now to take bold steps, without fear or favour.” Such moves should include enacting a law under which people convicted of poaching will be handed the death penalty, he added, which would scare off many people though it might ruffle the feathers of international organisations that defend human rights.
But the government should not fear a backlash because poaching was a real and serious problem, he added, even though some people have been treating it as a joke. “Poaching is organised crime and if we want to fight organised crime we should make hard decisions,” he said. “Let us make tough laws. We should be ready to be blamed by foreigners if we want to safeguard our resources.”
The government was told that if it did not mount an effective crackdown, those engaged in the illegal trade would not quit given how well poaching pays. A kilo of elephant tusks fetches between $3,500 and $4,000. Instead of exporting pieces of tusks, those engaged in the business now grind the tusks and transport the ivory in powder form, which is easy to carry.
Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu would say only that the government had started taking action. He would not offer details because the matter was sensitive. “Poaching is a very serious issue and that is why we have instituted a number of measures,” he said. “Some I cannot reveal here due to the nature of the problem.” One thousand game wardens will be hired in the next financial year. Ultimately, a total of 4,000 wardens will be deployed in order to meet the national demand.