16 December 2014

Are we considering the importance of corruption?

This morning I woke up with this news:

It seems that the logs, over 6 metric tonnes were being held in the Customs premises in the indo-Myanmar border since April, when they were seized. 

India has a zero export quota for wild sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus)    since   2007 .

Assuming that these logs are not part of the 11 metric tons exceptionally allocated for export, we can think that they were stolen and probably sold across the border.

 This takes me back to the theft of almost 1400 kg of ivory stockpiled by the Ugandan authorities a few weeks ago and to the interesting things I have recently learnt.

Last week I was fortunate enough to participate in an event related to corruption and saw myself surrounded by experts on the matter. 

Taking advantage of this opportunity, I informally discussed with some of the African delegates about illegal trafficking. 

I learnt that in many African countries corruption is widespread in public institutions, were the ruling powers place their friends as chiefs so that they ensure the control of what is happening. I guess this is common to many other countries in and outside Africa. Nepotism is not new.

Extremely interesting for me was to hear from most of the people I spoke to that were convinced that trafficking across borders was virtually impossible without the knowledge of higher instances. 

I understood then that all those news that I have been seeing lately, and the news that I mention above were more serious than I had thought: if stock is being stolen it is very likely that higher instances are making money with it. And when I say higher instances I mean those instances that are very well aware that they must abide to the provisions of the CITES Convention and therefore know of the illegality of their acts. Maybe the same officials who come out in public and promise a thorough investigation full of rolling heads…

My new friends explained to me that corruption is inserted in their cultures, and clarified that it is such a complex matter that I should not attempt to give it a simplistic explanation. I can only praise these friends for their commitment and courage to swim upstream against all this.

At exactly the same time, I finished reading the book by Lukas Straumann “Money logging: on the trail of the Asian Timber Mafia”.

In a very detailed manner, Lukas describes how a single ruler may get a hold of the natural resources in his country (in this case we are talking about the region of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo) and profit personally during decades without being disturbed. A perfect example of what my African friends had told me….highly recommended book for those who want to know more about how corruption in natural resources work. You may also learn in the meantime that the chocolate bar that you are eating right now has been made thanks to the deforestation of the once pristine rainforest of Borneo….


In my short experience, I feel that the “corruption” element has to be taken more seriously in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. There are many players that are still unaccounted for, such as the big international banks who allow for the multimillion transactions and the money laundering and the tax evasion, and those countries and companies who happily buy cheap goods closing an eye about their origin, or even the consumer who buys cheap furniture, cheap food without knowing the collateral damage in their environment.

The correct implementation and enforcement of UNCAC (UN Convention against Corruption) becomes essential.

Valuable lesson for me this past week. Definetely something to mention in my Master thesis.

Season’s Greeting and see you all back in January

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