Dar es Salaam — Tanzania's transport minister has removed 13 officials from the country's busiest international airport for allegedly soliciting bribes while inspecting vaccination cards and imported produce.
The ministry has received a litany of complaints from foreign visitors from India, China and the United Arab Emirates who claimed they were being harassed and often had their food products and medicine confiscated if they failed to pay bribes.
Harrison Mwakyembe, the country's transport minister, said the officials, who have been suspended pending an investigation, were extorting bribes from foreign travelers at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. He said he had videotaped evidence from closed-circuit television of the alleged abuses.
"I have ordered immediate removal of 13 officials from the airport premises while waiting for further disciplinary actions against them," Mwakyembe said this week. He has referred the case to the anti-corruption agency.
He said that the officials had grabbed travelers' passports, and unless they found $50 or $100 dollar bills tucked inside, had confiscated the travel documents.
The officials, who were safety inspectors at the airport, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the charges against them could only be proved by the court of law.
"I don't want to comment more, as you know these are just accusations, unless the court proves otherwise we are innocent," said Tedy Mwasenga, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
Mwakyembe said the officials allegedly were demanding bribes from passengers who did not have yellow fever vaccination cards, and at times even threatened to administer the vaccines themselves unless the passengers handed over money.
The officials in charge of inspecting agricultural and livestock products were soliciting bribes from passengers whom they accused of carrying fake products.
"In accordance with the law, if it is proved the products are fakes they should be destroyed. But surprisingly, after the passengers bribed the officers they were allowed to keep their products while those who refused to offer bribes lost their goods. It is alleged that the officers were taking such products for their home use," the transport minister said.
The East African country's busiest airport has come under increased scrutiny recently in the wake of repeated incidents of people arrested on charges of drug trafficking.
Meanwhile Edward Hosea, director general of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, said his agency had launched a formal investigation into the matter and was questioning the suspended officials. "If we find the enough evidence against them they will be prosecuted," Hosea said.