Is the Battle against Drug Trafficking being Won?

Editorial

In his reply to the PNQ put by the Leader of the Opposition Hon Xavier Duval last Friday, on the number of persons prosecuted and convicted with regard to drug seizures of street value greater than Rs 1 billion since year 2017 to date, the Prime Minister referred to the ‘exceptional results in terms of arrests and drug seizures’. He said they are ‘testimony to the colossal ongoing work to clean our country from the drug scourge’: 17,556 drug cases have been detected and 15,571 persons arrested. The street value of the drugs seized is estimated at around Rs 13.7 billion. In terms of convictions, however, with regard to drug seizures of street value greater than Rs 1 billion, only two individuals have been prosecuted and convicted to undergo three years’ imprisonment by the Intermediate Court for ‘Money Laundering’, and five have been provisionally charged with the offence of ‘Drug Dealing with Aggravating Circumstances’. The convictions and provisional charges refer to the seizure of heroin in 6 cylinders of Rs 1.8 billion street value in March 2017.

Investigations are still ongoing as regards seizures of 100 kgs of heroin on a speed boat of Rs 1.5 billion street value in October 2018; 95 kgs of cocaine in a tractopelle of Rs 1.4 billion street value in July 2019; and 243 kgs of heroin and 26 kgs of hashish in Pointe aux Canonniers of Rs 3.6 billion street value in May 2021. One can well understand that investigation in such matters is complex and requires the assistance of foreign judicial and police authorities given their international ramifications, and we do not want to speculate on the local ramifications of local drug trafficking with the political world as some are inclined to suspect. But the facts speak for themselves and police investigations must have surely revealed intriguing connections, for this kind of trade can’t go on unless all these dots are tightly connected. Various levels of complicity are required.

In recent years we have learnt about one master player in the drug trade allegedly pulling the strings from behind the jail bars. There have also been the cases of mobile phones (with batteries, chargers, etc) sneaked into our prisons at will due to laxities in the security system, and utilised for the carrying on of the trade from prison cells. And just like the “importers” were beating down all controls at the entry point in Mauritius, they would have managed equally well to get the drugs on board ships in the source countries without the customs, police and such other relevant authorities in those places knowing anything about it. On the other hand, there is also the financing of the business. Suppliers in foreign countries would need to be paid for in foreign exchange, and what this means is that all those rupees collected from retail sales locally and part of the proceeds therefrom requiring to be converted into foreign currencies for “import payment” would be obtained by the drug traders from local financial sources. The other issue that comes up is about the impact of this illicit trade on the economy and which, along with illegal betting, is said to have created an underground economy sufficiently large relative to the ‘white’ or official economy with the potential of producing serious destabilizing effects. Another matter to consider is: if illicit drugs can be sneaked into the country so easily, what about other goods, such as arms and ammunitions? This raises an important question of national security.

It will be recalled that following the submission of the report of the last Commission of Inquiry on drug trafficking chaired by former Puisne Judge Paul Lam Shang Leen, a Task Force had been set up under the chairmanship of the Director General of the ICAC to coordinate the implementation of its recommendations with the collaboration of different investigative agencies. It would appear that a number of recommendations have already been implemented, but it is not known where matters stand and whether the Task Force is still in operation. The port and fast boats plying between island destinations or fishing vessels conveniently disconnecting their situation trackers were identified as major drug entry points, and again we have no report that matters are under control.

Statistics in relation to the large number of drug hauls may suggest that that the drug situation is “under control”, but it may likewise mean that it could be getting out of hand especially with the proliferation of the cheaply available synthetic drugs, apparently available not only in city suburbs but all across the island. All this is a matter of serious concern for the country, especially for Mauritian families affected by the havoc wrought by such drugs in their lives.

There is an increasing body of opinion that believes, unless we bury our heads in the sand, that new approaches have to be considered as a matter of some urgency to more successfully fight the scourge of drugs and their infiltration into our society. We may well need to consider differentiating between “soft” and harder drugs as some have proposed but, whatever the available options, it is perhaps time to appoint a broad-based panel comprising all the stakeholders, and also sourcing global expertise to benefit from their potentially wider experience. Such a panel would review with local NGOs and agencies the situation and recommend novel approaches based on the latest science and sociology, including what works in other countries or island states.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 24 June 2022

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