By Mrinal Roy
The government has repeatedly proclaimed its determination to fight the drug cartels thriving in Mauritius and eliminate the scourge of drug trafficking in the country. It measures its success by the increasing number of interceptions and seizures of illicit drugs including hard drugs entering the country. However, the scale of the quantities and range of drugs seized which include cannabis, synthetic drugs as well as heroin and cocaine, etc., raise serious questions on the real status and success of the government’s declared war on drugs in the country.
The fortuitous discovery of 95 kgs of cocaine valued at some Rs 1.4 billion last week hidden in the engine compartment of a backhoe loader during a standard verification of the equipment at the premises of the importing company prior to its delivery to the client who ordered the backhoe loader therefore begs so many disquieting questions. How could such a big consignment of cocaine go undetected by the anti-drug authorities and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Section of the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA), despite the costly and pointed scanning equipment in use and the rigorous control, checking and verification procedures which are presumably in place at the ports of entry in the country?
Does it mean that despite the strict measures to control illicit drugs in place in the ports, the airport, at sea and the parcel Post Office significant quantities of narcotic drugs do escape detection and enter the country? Is this the reason why drug trafficking continues unabated in the country?
There is obvious embarrassment among the authorities that such a big haul of illicit drugs could have entered the country hidden in such a large piece of equipment as a backhoe loader from a high risk country such as Brazil, undetected under the nose of those responsible to prevent the entry of illicit drugs in the country. It is equally disconcerting that the inquiry by the authorities is yet to get its teeth into the case a week after the discovery of the drugs despite press reports that uncannily similar hauls of cocaine packed in similar bags carrying the same logo and also hidden in backhoe loaders (mechanical excavators) have been intercepted in Brazil and Australia since early June 2019 in what seems to be a well oiled international cocaine supply chain and modus operandi. Before speculating on the narrative of this peculiar haul of cocaine, it is first and foremost necessary for the authorities to get to the bottom of this through a rigorous investigation. This case basically acts as an acid test of the anti-drug trafficking and investigation measures in place.
It must be remembered that the haul of 135 kgs of heroin in March 2017 at the port estimated at some Rs 2 billon and the seizure of 141.2 kgs of various drugs comprising cannabis, hashish and heroin worth some Rs 519 million destined to Mauritius by the Malagasy authorities in June 2018 as well as of other sizeable interceptions of drugs have not as yet helped nab and condemn the drug lords who financed and organized the illicit entry of these drugs. It is also a telling evidence of the scale of drug trafficking in the country and the significant financial resources mustered and staked by the kingpins of the local drug cartels to assure supplies of illicit drugs to their lucrative and deadly trade. Is the country today any nearer to nabbing the drug lords and dismantling their drug trafficking cartels in the country?
It is also obvious that interceptions and seizures of even large drug consignments are neither denting drug trafficking in the country nor hurting the drug lords. The war on drugs cannot succeed if illicit drugs continue to enter the country despite all the robust border, sea and entry controls purportedly in place. It cannot be won if air-tight border controls do not totally cut off the supplies of illicit drugs entering the market. It cannot be won if the kingpins of drug trafficking in the country as opposed to the small fry are not identified and severely sanctioned by the strictest laws aimed at putting an end to their evil trade.
The scourge of drug trafficking cannot be eradicated from the country if the drug laws and the penal sanctions against drug lords and drug trafficking and peddling are not strengthened to include, as in Singapore, the harshest punishments aimed at snuffing drug trafficking in the country. There cannot be half hearted measures towards those who thrive and enrich themselves on the deadly business of peddling extremely harmful and lethal drugs in the country to large swathes of the young and the people weaned to drugs through addiction and dependence. Drug lords and traffickers deserve no quarter.
Honest reality check
Isn’t it time for an honest reality check? Despite the government rhetoric, it is evident that the war against drug trafficking is far from won. The lure of easy money seems to be attracting new players. There are also signs that Mauritius is a key element of regional drug trafficking networks involving various countries of the region. The Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking also exposed an alleged nexus between drug traffickers and some barristers at law and flagged evidence of money laundering through the horse racing world. There is therefore an urgent need for a more potent arsenal of measures, stricter laws and harsher sanctions against drug traffickers, disproportionate wealth and money laundering. Convicted drug lords must be severely sanctioned and dispossessed of all their ill-gotten wealth from drug trafficking.
Mauritius is a small island. The main kingpins of the various cartels are known to the authorities. It is therefore disconcerting that drug trafficking and peddling have grown to such alarming levels over time under successive governments. Synthetic drugs which include cocktails of extremely toxic chemicals have entered our schools and risk impairing and ruining the lives of the young. The colossal sums of illicit funds generated by drug trafficking is also a destabilizing factor in the country as it is a source and an instrument of corruption and leverage. A lax attitude by the authorities has enabled drug traffickers to cross too many red lines. This cannot go on. It is therefore the collective responsibility of all to urgently put an end to the deadly trade of drug trafficking in the country.
A collective battle
The war against the drug lords who enrich themselves by nurturing addiction among the young and the population is too important to be a partisan affair. It can only be won by mobilizing every citizen, social workers helping rehabilitate drug addicts, the police, anti-drug forces as well as the population at large to act as foot soldiers of a common national determination to expose and denounce all drug traffickers and peddlers so that they can be swiftly brought to justice and their drug cartels dismantled.
We therefore owe it to our children and the young to ensure that the country is safe and free from the scourge of drug trafficking. The onus is therefore squarely on government and the people at large to urgently ensure that as a nation we do what it takes in terms of all the required arsenal of potent laws and robust control measures necessary to eradicate this evil from our society and send a clear message to whoever indulges in drug trafficking and peddling that they do so at their own risk and peril.
* Published in print edition on 19 June 2019
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