THE Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, Mr Luhaga Mpina has ordered fresh financial audits at all international fish markets along Lake Victoria over the past five years, to ascertain whether the government was getting its fair share of revenue from fish and allied products.
The markets under the spotlight include those of Kirumba (Mwanza), Nyakalilo Buchosa (Mwanza), Kasenda Chato (Geita), Magalini Muleba (Kagera) as well as Kemondo Bukoba (Kagera) and Mwigobero Musoma (Mara).
"All fish traders found to have cheated will be made to pay the revenues (in arrears) over the past five years ... all public servants who will have colluded with the cheats (traders) will also be arraigned for their role in 'sabotaging' the country's natural resources," Mr Mpina warned.
The minister issued the orders after he uncovered acts of 'cheating' in the sale of fish and its byproducts, notably sardines - often involving 'under-declaration' of weight and quantity of fish catchesas well as general misuse of permits.
Speaking during a working tour of the Lake Zone, Mr Mpina cited other forms of cheating as mixing of fish products meant for local and exports markets in trucks, establishment of informal international fish markets and tax evasion by large traders.
Mr Mpina ordered an immediate closure of all informal fish markets which have been granted international status such as Nyakalilo and Magalini, instructing the ministry's Permanent Secretary, Dr Yohana Budeba, to reassign all employees at the two markets.
At a public rally at Kasenda fish market in Geita, Mr Mpina cited an incidenton December 16, last year, where a trader was given a permit to transport 258 sacks of fish products to Ngara in Kagera region but the consignment was instead smuggled to Rwanda, occasioning losses of up to 3m/- in government revenue.
He blamed unscrupulous traders and unethical public servants for the cheating, which was transported in a truck with Rwandese registration numbers, RB 9591. "Not only that ... on December 2, 2017, another trader transported 300 sacks of sardines from Kasenda market but the dealer declared only 200 sacks meaning that the government lost revenues from the other 100 sacks," the minister revealed.
Mr Mpina described the cited incidents as "just a tip of an iceberg" and argued that the government was losing billions of shillings in revenues through illegal exports to Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He further disclosed that local fish traders with permits to export fish products are inviting foreigners to purchase, collect and transport the fish products which is against the Fishing Act of 2003. He noted as well that between January and December, last year, fishing equipment with a value of 525m/- were confiscated and torched after their owners were found to be engaging in illegal fishing in Chato District.