President Peter Mutharika has deployed Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers along border posts to guard routes suspected to be used by smugglers of maize and tobacco.
The presidential order has come in the wake of police interception on Sunday of 17 trucks in Chitipa suspected to have been smuggling maize to Tanzania and other countries.
Presidential press secretary Mgeme Kalilani yesterday confirmed that the President has ordered MDF to curb smuggling of maize.
He said all strategic routes will be sealed to ensure that the commodity remains in the country.
Kalilani also said there are a number of border districts the smugglers are suspected to be using, including Machinga, Dedza, Chitipa and Karonga.
He said: “There is indeed that order to have MDF curb smuggling of maize. The President does not want to see maize leaving the country.
“There is a ban on exportation of maize, but some people have resorted to smuggling the maize. MDF will have to seal all strategic exit points.”
The number of impounded trucks has since risen to 48 from 17 after police impounded 31 more trucks. Of the 31 trucks, 25 were intercepted in Karonga and the remainder in Chitipa.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya confirmed that the police have impounded more trucks.
He said the drivers upon learning that trucks were being impounded in Chitipa District changed routes, hence only three trucks were intercepted in Chitipa while 25 were intercepted in Karonga.
Said Kalaya: “They were probably tipped off that we were impounding the trucks in Chitipa so they were escaping. We intensified the patrols and checks and impounded more trucks.
“We also arrested the drivers and they will be appearing in court to answer a charge of attempting to export a special crop.”
However, he feared that some trucks might have already left the country before the operation to curb smuggling started.
Since the enforcement started on Saturday, police have recovered about 1 000 tonnes of maize believed to have been sourced from the Central and Southern regions. Traders, according to police, dispatch the trucks on the pretext that they were going to sell the maize in Chitipa.
Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, who is the official government spokesperson, yesterday defended the use of MDF, saying losing maize to smugglers was tantamount to killing Malawians.
He said if MDF can be used to protect forests there was nothing wrong in assigning them to protect the staple grain.
Dausi said the MDF had been deployed to complement the efforts of the police.
In an earlier interview, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Mkombezi said maize exports are prohibited and those caught exporting will have to face the law.
He said the ban on exportation can only be lifted if Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development advises otherwise on the food situation in the country. He said the Ministry is yet to be advised on crop estimates.