Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking
The war on drug trafficking must be relentless. There cannot be any quarter if we want to save our youth from this scourge. There can only be one outcome. This war must be won
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking has been made public. It is detailed, explicit and damning. It comprehensively exposes the serious shortcomings and failings of the whole system of surveillance, intelligence gathering on drug trafficking, border control to prevent the entry of illicit drugs in the country in place, despite the government proclaimed determination to crush and eradicate drug trafficking . It is also a scathing indictment of the ineptitude of the anti drug smuggling institutions and the Customs as well as the inefficiency of the border control measures at the port, the airport and the post or at sea to stop the entry of illegal drugs of every kind in the country.
The findings of the Commission are worse than generally feared. The report has identified a plethora of loopholes and loose ends in the system in place to combat drug trafficking. It also reveals that the anti drug trafficking institutions such as the Anti-Drug and Smuggling Unit (ADSU), the police, the prison services all have feet of clay as they are undermined by some black sheep from within.
The report also maps out the tentacular hold of drug traffickers over the country and flags the presence of moles enticed by the lure of easy money within the key institutions and services responsible for the fight against the drug trade. The report has thus named and pilloried a list of officers from ADSU, the police, the prison services for ‘‘working hand in hand with the drug barons’ and 11 members of the legal profession for their questionable links with drug traffickers. The latter includes a government minister and the deputy speaker of the National Assembly who have had to step down. The Commission has recommended that an in-depth inquiry and financial audit trail be carried out in all these cases by the relevant authorities and to take whatever appropriate action they may deem fit.
It must be highlighted that the list of barristers who were in contact with prisoners through unlawful means was drawn by the Commission after cross-checking the visitor’s book for barristers kept by the prison authorities with the data on sim cards and mobile phones seized from prison inmates. These barristers were called for questioning by the Commission.
The Commission has thus made proposals and recommendations to address every issue identified in the course of its investigation. These include a host of recommendations to better equip, man and assure a more rigorous border control at the airport, the port, at Customs, by the National Coast Guard, at the airport VIP lounges and the postal services to prevent the entry of banned drugs in the country.
Recommendations have also been made to curb illicit activities in state prisons. The Commission has also recommended a code of ethics for chemists who would be supervised by an independent inspectorate as well as the setting up of a computerized system to enable the monitoring of the sale of controlled drugs in real time.
The verdict on the scale of drug trafficking in the country is equally damning. All governments have failed the people as drug trafficking has expanded exponentially and drug cartels have tightened their stranglehold over the country under the watch of successive governments since independence. No government can claim ‘a holier than thou’ rhetoric. The people were thus appalled at the present Prime Minister’s decision to appoint Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus as a Minister in November 2017 in the wake of Showkutally Soodhun stepping down as Minister, despite the fact that she had been one of the barristers quizzed by the Commission on her numerous visits to meet prison inmates accused of drug trafficking.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking is in many ways cathartic. It charters a very cogent and concrete way forward. For example, the Commission addresses a host of thorny issues such as the questionable links between the members of the legal profession with drug traffickers, their visits to prison inmates accused of drug trafficking, the illegal payment of fees through drug money, unsolicited visits to prisoners and money laundering head on.
To this end, the Commission makes a series of proposals and recommendations to ensure transparency and accountability and strict adherence to a new protocol in respect of visits to prisons and a high code of professional ethics. These recommendations include, for example, that no more than one detainee can be visited by a barrister at a time to prevent detainees involved in drug offences to communicate with each other and that the Supreme Court and the Bar Association/Council set and impose an indicative grid for the fees that barristers are allowed to ask from their clients. The Commission argues that this measure is already applicable in other jurisdictions and that it will ensure transparency, limit abuse and prevent any money laundering schemes involving barristers.
More importantly, the Commission in a clear indictment of the inefficient anti drug smuggling institutions in place, recommends the disbandment of ADSU and the Customs Anti-Narcotic Unit and to replace them by a single independent unit, the National Drugs Investigation Commission (NDIC) which will spearhead the war against drug trafficking with special powers of arrest, investigation and prosecution. Its proposed structure and functioning are detailed in the report.
The Commission also makes the right call of treating drug users as medical patients rather than treating them as criminals to be indiscriminately prosecuted and incarcerated. Rehabilitation of drug addicts must be an important aspect of the war on drugs. Similarly, the Commission recognises that cannabis is a soft drug which requires in line with the prevailing international trend on the issue a soft approach bearing in mind that no one has been known to have died from an overdose of ‘gandia’. There is also growing scientific evidence that medicinal cannabis has tremendous therapeutic potential for certain ailments and an economic potential. Pointed research must therefore be carried out to determine the medicinal value and economic prospects of the local varieties of cannabis.
The havoc, distress and pain wrecked on drug addicts and their families by drug traffickers peddling deadly drugs which kill drug addicts to enrich themselves require an arsenal of the harshest laws and penal sanctions to act as a deterrent against this evil and to signal to drug traffickers that they do so at their own risk and peril. The Commission has thus proposed that the issue of the re-introduction of capital punishment in the arsenal of penal sanctions against the kingpins of the drug cartels and their coterie of drug dealers selling lethal hard drugs and synthetic drugs be determined through a referendum. The proposal of a specialized Drug Court with its appellate bodies mandated to hear all drug related cases will help ensure that cases will be determined in a fast track mode.
The way forward
The report is now in the public domain. The recommendations of the Commission herald the beginning of a determined war against drug traffickers. Drug trafficking in hard and synthetic drugs is a serious national issue which affects the youth and addicts and their families across the country. The war on drugs must therefore involve the people, the NGOs helping and rehabilitating addicts, the parents of addicts and civil society. They must have their say in the way forward.
What is therefore the point of setting up yet another ministerial committee to examine the report? It is now time to act. The people will not accept any further procrastination or watering down of the recommendations made. Except if there are valid objections, the unadulterated recommendations of the report must be swiftly translated into concrete and cogent actions. The people, civil society and NGOs must be party to this key exercise. Shouldn’t the Commission be asked to oversee the implementation of its recommendations pending the urgent setting up of the National Drugs Investigation Commission?
The war on drug trafficking must be relentless. There cannot be any quarter if we want to save our youth from this scourge. There can only be one outcome. This war must be won.
* Published in print edition on 3 August 2018