New institution in pipeline to permanently fight contraband
Contraband hotspots such as Moyale, Togo Wuchale, and Jigjiga have seen a sharp decline in commercial activity in recent weeks following the beginning of a new anti-contraband operation. Smuggling of import and export commodities through porous border areas has nearly ceased, particularly in Somalia, Oromia, and the southern regions.
A new task force that includes the Federal Police, the Ethiopian Customs Commission, the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration (MoTRI), and other federal, regional, and checkpoint authorities is now carrying out the operation. Debele Kabeta, commissioner of the Ethiopian Customs Commission, is also in charge of the whole operation.
The new task force was formed to evaluate, monitor, and implement the operation. “Export declined because the illegal export of commodities prevailed,” Mulugeta Beyene, customs compliance division deputy commissioner at the ECC, said.
Mulugeta says that the legal exports of goods like khat have been going down, which means that less foreign currency is coming in from exports.
“As a result, committees have been formed at the national level and have been conducting assessments and evaluations to solve the problem. Integrated and large-scale legal measures have been launched by the government.”
Operation areas have been identified across the country, with standards and criteria also developed.
“We directly embarked on a very intensive operation to stop the contraband. Sufficient preparations are made before launching the operation, which is being implemented aggressively. The task force is working 24 hours a day, mainly with the federal police,” said Mulugeta.
The operation includes taking measures against all contraband operators, collaborators, illegal businesses, vehicles, and all related activities. The other part of the operation is to increase exports through legal channels.
The first operation was launched in Moyale this month, with legal exports already showing an improvement in Moyale. Similar operations will be started in a few other places, mostly border towns and smuggling routes inside the country. The commissioner says that exports through legitimate channels are on the rise with the many safeguards and crackdowns already in place to combat illegal players.
The task force’s actions against officials who were collaborating with smugglers are largely responsible for the decline in illegal activities. The regional states’ authority to issue import and export licenses was revoked, and the responsibility was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration (MoTRI).
According to those with knowledge of the situation, members of the ruling Prosperity Party and officials of regional trade bureaus have been abusing their positions of authority for their own benefit.
“Officials have been allowing their relatives to conduct the informal trading. The contraband network cannot function unless the smugglers have the backing of government officials who clear the checkpoints for them,” an official from the Somali region said.
The official stated that officials have also been giving monopoly access for their contraband network operators to exclusively supply commodities, especially under the Franco Valuta scheme. “Contraband cannot fully stop unless corruption in the government fully stops.”
According to travelers from Jigjiga, bringing items like clothes, electronics, and basic commodities like edible oil from the region to the central market has completely stopped. As a result, the prices of such commodities have doubled in Somali.
“Some traders are taking commodities from Addis Ababa to Jigjiga as the price in Jigjiga is now higher than Addis Ababa and becoming more attractive,” a traveler who returned from Jigjiga said. “The trend has changed. In the past, commodities were cheaper in Jigjiga and more expensive in the central market.”
Officials of the Somali region also said that the contraband activity in the region has dropped, and the activities of commercial banks at the border town of Togo Wuchale have also slumped. The border town is notorious for being a switching point between legal and illegal business. The bank branches there usually legalize contraband money, according to officials of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE).
Gebremeskel Chala, the minister of MoTRI, was in Jigjiga over the past week, discussing with Mustefe Omer, the president of the region.
“They discussed how to enforce various measures, continue the next operation in the region, and stop contraband permanently,” said an official in the region, who spoke to The Reporter on condition of anonymity.
In a bid to change the taskforce operation into a permanent one, a new institution is also being formed, according to Mulugeta.
“Decisions are also made to make the operation sustainable. Currently, we are working aggressively to transform the task force into an institutionalized and permanent system. It is not just a one-time operation. The institution will be equipped with technology, and the structure will have permanent operations at all checking points,” Mulugeta said, refraining from disclosing the name of the new institution that is to shoulder the renewed fight against contraband.