Dar es Salaam. The police have been accused of being at the centre of a criminal ring that steals cargo from the Dar es Salaam port, leading to losses running into in millions of shillings for both exporters and importers.
The top echelons of the police force in the Dar es Salaam Special Zone are said to be so disturbed by these claims that they have gone full steam ahead to establish the truth, according to Zone Commander Suleiman Kova.
“We are aware of the allegations,” he told The Citizen in a telephone interview yesterday. “In fact, I am now in a meeting with the Tanzania Ports Authority and other senior police officers discussing the same issue to see how we can work together to eliminate the problem.” The allegations have surfaced only a few days after the police were implicated in two incidents—one involving attempted theft of copper valued at more than Sh1 billion using a Tazara locomotive and the other involving the theft of oil at Orxy depot.
A police officer has reportedly been arrested together with five others in relation to both incidents. The copper was being exported from Zambia through Dar port.
Late last month, Transport minister Harrison Mwakyembe suspended the director general of the Tanzania Ports Authority, Mr Ephraim Mgawe, and other senior officials for failing to stop theft of cargo at the port. Soon afterwards, Dr Mwakyembe formed a team to probe the extent of theft at the port.
Sources from the port’s security department told The Citizen yesterday that some unscrupulous officers have been working with criminal gangs to steal cargo from the port.
Worse still, police involvement in the crime ring has not only undermined the security of the port, the main gateway to imports and exports to and from the Tanzania hinterland and landlocked countries in central Africa, but has also frustrated efforts to prosecute other perpetrators who are routinely caught stealing cargo, sources said.
Said a senior security officer at the port, who requested anonymity for security reasons: “Most of the cases involving theft at the Dar port have not been prosecuted. There are about 35 cases at the Police pending for more than a year without ever being filed at the courts of law.”
Wanton corruption in the force could also be another factor frustrating efforts to prosecute most of the cases involving theft at the port. The security department of the port has already suggested that the government shifts powers of prosecuting perpetrators at the port from the police to the auxiliary police who man the port’s security.
“We hope the team formed by Dr Mwakyembe will heed our call to remove prosecution power from the police to the security department of the port. We just cannot work with the people we do not trust,” the source said.
Security departments in other agencies such as the Tanzania Revenue Authority, the immigration department and city councils have powers to prosecute. The port’s auxiliary police were credited with curbing damage of property in the Saturday night crisis.
But in a curious twist of events, auxiliary police officer Cornell Kufahaidhuru, who helped foil the robbery was allegedly kidnapped by some of the robbers who escaped capture and who later contacted the port’s security department to demand release of their accomplices.
Dr Mwakyembe on Monday confirmed that the incident took place but said the whereabouts of Mr Kufahaidhuru could not be established. It was later reported that Mr Kufahaidhuru was dumped by his alleged kidnapper in Iringa region. According to sources, he was to be flown back to Dar es Salaam for further treatment.
Following the weekend incidents at the port, the police also launched a joint investigation with Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and the Tanzania Zambia Railways Authority (Tazara).
The security of the port was formerly in the hands of the police but security responsibilities were entrusted in 1990 to the port’s own security, also called auxiliary policy, to curb rising cases of theft.
But security concerns have continued to dent the credibility of the port, prompting the suspension of the Tanzania Ports Authority’s top management last month by the minister for Transport Dr Harrison Mwakyembe.
Security concerns, coupled with congestion at the port, have been a matter of serious concern for importers and exporters from the hinterland and in neighbouring countries. Some of them have threatened to shift to Mombasa port to avoid loss of property.
Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s principal port, with a rated capacity of 4.1 million (dwt) dry cargo and 6.0 million (dwt) bulk liquid cargo.
Abela Msikula: Police accused of being in criminal ring at port