The clandestine shipping of wild animals to foreign lands resurfaced in the National Assembly yesterday with the Committee for Lands, Natural Resources and Environment accusing the government of protecting the culprits.
Committee Chairman James Lembeli said the manner in which the government was handling the matter raised a lot of questions, considering the fact that it had turned down a technical proposal drawn by his team on how to deal with the matter.
Lembeli said the recommendations had aimed at assisting the government to track down the shipped animals.
“The committee has been disappointed by the government decision of ignoring its recommendations,” Lembeli said, adding: “Failure by the government to establish the whereabouts of the animals is shameful.”
The statement prompted Deputy Speaker Job Ndugai to ask the government to come up with explanation when the Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism winds up the debate today.
The saga surrounds the shipping of 116 wild animals of different species, including four giraffes and 16 wild birds worth 170.57m/- aboard Qatar military plane.
The incident occurred on November 24, last year.
According to Lembeli, the government until today has not been able to tell which game reserve; hunting block or national park the animals were taken from. What the government managed to do after the incident was to arrest some suspects who are now facing court action.
According to the committee, instead of taking disciplinary measures against some government officials involved in the graft, some individuals were transferred to other ministries and some promoted, including former ministry’s permanent secretary Ladislaus Komba who was transferred to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Shadow Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Peter Msigwa called upon the government to hold accountable all officials and heads of security organs charged with the responsibility of conserving wildlife.
“It is not possible for 116 live animals including giraffes to be captured, carried in trucks to Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), put on a plane and then ferried out without the government knowledge,” he said.
Earlier on presenting the ministry’s estimates, Maige told the House that after the incident the government suspended licences of businessmen suspected to have been involved in the scam, stepped up security and inspection at KIA, established a permanent station of wildlife rangers at KIA and improved wildlife intelligence unit.
Other measures taken include strengthening the anti-poaching unit for the Northern zone and Arusha by increasing the number of workers.
He said apart from conducting investigations for the ongoing case state security organs are also doing the same in and outside the country by involving Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
According to the minister, the ministry has formed a special task force charged with the responsibility of inspecting stations used for keeping wild animals before being shipped to foreign lands.
The minister added that the government would purchase a chopper that would be used in patrols to combat poaching.
A special satellite system would be installed to track poachers.
Meanwhile a spirited debate ensued yesterday in Parliament on a number of pertinent issues, including uranium extraction in Selous Game Reserve.
The debate ensued immediately after Minister Maige tabled the ministry’s financial estimates and expenditures for 2011/2012 financial year.
The Lands, Natural Resources and Environment committee was the first to register its concern on the proposed project, with its chairman Lembeli saying the secrecy with which the matter was being handled by the government raised a lot of questions. According to Lembeli, neither his committee nor the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Energy and Minerals was involved in the project.
Lembeli said since the Wildlife Conservation Act No 5 of 2009 allowed the extraction of strategic minerals within game reserves in the country the two parliamentary committees should have been involved transparently in all stages by enabling them to visit the site.
“Despite the government’s efforts in conducting exploration for large scale mining, the committee wants the government to stop conducting such processes in secrecy,” Lembeli said.
Uranium exploration in Selous Game Reserve was contracted to Mantra Tanzania Limited. The exploration conducted showed the 50,000 square kilometres Selous Game Reserve contains uranium amounting to 82.3 million tonnes which may last for 15 years after extractions process begins.
Lembeli said the size of the area involved in the project is 345 square kilometres, equivalent to 0.69 of the total area of the game reserve.
Shadow minister Peter Msigwa (Chadema- Iringa Urban) said the fact that the government in collaboration with Unesco engaged in uranium exploration without involving the Parliament showed a high level of disrespect to the House.
The opposition MP asked the government to seek permission from the House before engaging in further processes.
Minister Maige had told the House that despite the Wildlife Conservation Act, No 5, 2009 allowing the extraction of strategic minerals such as uranium, gas and oil, such activity was not allowed in sites which Unesco has declared World Heritage, adding that Selous Games Reserve is one of the sites.
He said the government has requested Unesco to allow it to review the Game Reserve’s boundaries to exclude the uranium area.