The Ethiopian Customs Commission said recently that contraband networks are using government, security and Red Cross vehicles to evade detection.
The Commission admitted to challenges it has faced in controlling illicit trade, owing to the sophisticated methods employed by the culprits as well as complicity by regional and zonal officials.
According to a statement from the Commission, contraband imported goods amounting to 3.1 billion birr were intercepted in the last 10 months, a 50 percent increase from the previous year. However, export of contraband goods stood at 400 million birr, which showed a 20 percent drop.
Addressing the Parliament last week, Commissioner Debele Kebeta explained that there are signs that several individuals, including government officials, were participating in illicit activities.
“The bad actors have honed their skills over the years; they employ modern technology, have grown in number, and have better capacity and can operate in ways that put customs officers in harm’s way,” Debele said.
Over 600 contrabandists are in custody so far this year, according to Debele. However, there were also some sacrifices made to accomplish that, including the death of officers, as the contrabandists are armed, which highlights the magnitude of the problem.
“Some in positions of authority also act in cahoots with the culprits, who can make local communities rally behind them, thereby stymieing the government’s efforts to control illicit trade,” Debele said, adding “They are now in a position where they can attack and evade customs officers in a bid to sneak in/out contraband goods.”
As for the commissioner, both the government’s ability to control and the contrabandists’ capacity to evade are growing but more should be done to prevail over the contrabandists and ensure legality.
The Commission, which is awaiting a decision by the Ministry of Finance to be able to procure modern technology and vehicles that will enable it carry out its mission better, is currently reactivating an anti-contraband task force. Debele called for more coordination among security personnel at federal, regional and local levels.
Even though the Commission hopes to improve coordination with security personnel at different levels to control contraband trade, Debele emphasized that a lot should still be done to modernize operations.
According to the Commissioner’s report, large chunks of Somali and Afar regional states are theaters for illicit trade and stressed that a number of people are trying to capitalize on the political instability the country is in for their illicit activities.