Botswana fights minerals smuggling

The commander of the Narcotics and Diamond Squad, Detective Superintendent Monthusi Ben said precious metals and stones were usually smuggled into Botswana, as no cases of smuggling of the precious minerals from local mines had been recorded recently. Ben said this was because the security systems in Botswana were watertight and constantly reviewed so as to be always ahead of potential smugglers. He also said that between 2005 and during the course of this year, the diamond squad received 163 leads on illegal activities involving diamond smuggling and had managed to prove five cases. He said in this regard, 34 pieces of diamonds (rough or uncut) valued at more than 70 000 pula weighing 47 carats were recovered. Ben told Bopa that 11 people were arrested in Gaborone, Francistown and Maun in connection with the alleged diamond smuggling racket. Of the five cases recorded, one case had been closed because of insufficient evidence. Investigations were ongoing for the other four cases. He said in some instances, the information that the police received led to the arrest of the suspects in possession of glass or fake diamonds. However, he explained that a new law was passed last year, stipulating that if a person was found in possession of fake diamonds he or she was liable to the same charge as those found in illegal possession of diamonds. Ben said a person found guilty of illegal possession diamonds was liable to a maximum of 15 years imprisonment. On the other hand, he said last year, six cases of gold smuggling were recorded. Seven foreigners were arrested in possession of six gold metals valued at 9 286 pula and weighing 96,3 grammes. The suspected gold smugglers were arrested in Maun, Kanye, Lobatse and Gaborone. Gold smugglers usually targeted jewellery shops to sell the illegal gold since some of them manufacture gold rings and other jewellery. However, police have not arrested any jeweller for illegal gold transactions. Meanwhile, cases of illegal possession of emerald were declining in Botswana because emerald was getting out of the market. However, Ben said that last year three cases involving eight pieces of emerald were recorded in which four Batswana and four Zimbabweans were implicated. He explained that emerald was not a local precious stone and was usually smuggled into Botswana by foreigners. A person found in possession of emerald was liable to two years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 2 000 pula. Meanwhile, Botswana’s prime tourism areas like Maun, Kasane and particularly Okavango and Tuli Block are lacking in domestic tourists. Assistant Director of Tourism Wazha Tema said the tour operators were not aware of the country’s rates which they should use and this could be responsible for discouraging visitors. “There are prices for Batswana it’s just that they are not aware of them,” said Tema. He said prices on the tour packages usually seemed a little pricey because they catered for international visitors who usually purchase packages in US dollars or pounds. Tema said that even though the packages might seem expensive to Batswana, they needed to look at the pricing of the whole package. “They should not compare the price of a package with the price of a hotel because a package is inclusive of everything ‘ lodging, food and transport,” he told Mmegi. Tema said it might not be easy for Batswana to adopt the idea of vacations because they do not have that culture. He said on days that are considered vacations and holidays, Batswana are usually at home with their families for different reasons. “On holidays people engage in things like wedding plans, funerals and other gatherings that are spared for holidays. They have no time for vacations,” he noted. He disclosed that for Chobe and Kasane the numbers of domestic tourists going to that area were not so bad. “Even though the numbers are not that high it’s better than other areas,” he revealed. Tema said that Batswana need to be encouraged to get into the system of calling and enquiring from tour operators about different packages. Although Tema said Batswana do not tour their country as much as they should, young couples were striving to change that as they now visibly take vacations to tourism areas. He indicated that the Department of Tourism was not sleeping on the issue and was trying to look for ways to make Batswana aware that tourism is not meant to benefit foreigners only. “We are planning to come up with systematic ways to boost domestic tourism. It is on the top of our agenda,” he said and added that they needed strategies to boost domestic tourism. Tema said although domestic tourism needed boosting, outbound tourism also needed attention as that would also benefit the country. “Batswana also need to travel to other neighbouring countries like South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique because that would also boost the tourism industry,” he said.

April 2006
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