_: The Chief Executive Officer of the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA), Francois van der Merwe raised this concern during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between TISA and the Directorate of Customs and Excise in the Ministry of Finance (MoF) here on Friday.
“The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region has been used as a criminal network for illegal cigarettes, and Namibia has been used as a transit route,” he noted.
According to Van der Merwe, about 60 per cent of these illegal cigarettes from SADC are destined for the South African and Namibian markets.
He said most of the illegal cigarettes go through the port of Walvis Bay from countries like Angola, China and Dubai.
Van der Merwe said despite the hard work of police and customs’ officials in confiscating and seizing illegal cigarettes through roadblocks and checkpoints, criminals are never brought to book for dealing in counterfeit cigarettes.
“TISA does not know of any successful prosecutions of criminals, and they never go to jail for smuggling illegal cigarettes. Confiscated cigarettes are stored in government warehouses, but get legs and disappear overnight,” he charged.
MoF Permanent Secretary Ericah Shafudah explained during the same event that smuggling does not only undermine Government revenue, but also threatens legitimate businesses and undermines law and order by encouraging the formation of organised criminal syndicates, which use illicit funds to finance other serious criminal activities such as terrorism, organised crime, drugs, firearms’ and human trafficking.
“It is against this background that the ministry and TISA wish to collaborate within a formal framework, based on their mutual commitment to facilitate legitimate trade in tobacco products, whilst combating illicit activities,” she said.
The MoU formalises and legitimises a platform for the exchange of information and other collaborative action in the prevention, investigation and curbing of the illicit trade in cigarettes and other tobacco products, particularly in the southern African region.
According to Shafudah, collaborating with TISA is an important element in the broader customs’ strategy, which also includes a comprehensive risk assessment of the supply chain; the strengthening of enforcement capacity and intelligence-sharing through a central enforcement network; as well as mutual administrative assistance instruments under the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and SADC umbrellas.
TISA represents tobacco-growers, leaf merchants, leaf processors, manufacturers, importers and exporters of tobacco products in southern Africa.