The Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Relations has noted an increase in the number of Malawians being arrested on drug-related charges outside the country and vowed to champion a review of several legislations to deter others.
The committee estimated that in the past few years, about 15 Malawians have been nabbed on drug smuggling charges in countries like China, India and Thailand.
In an interview yesterday, the committee chairperson Alex Major said there are more cases that have not been reported in the media which the committee discovered on a recent trip to China.
He said it was the committee’s interest to ensure that these Malawians get fair trial in the other jurisdictions but also prevent more from falling into the same trap.
Said Major: “The growing increase of such cases is not just about the individuals arrested. When there is such criminal activity taking place, the business environment becomes compromised. We have a duty as Parliament to ensure treaties and protocols are adhered to.”
He said the committee continued to observe trends to find out what is causing the increase and how several players can resolve issues.
But in its preliminary findings, which will be presented to Parliament, the committee has found three factors that are increasing cases of drug smuggling: porous borders, poor security system and a weak legal system.
When arrested, the courts have tended to slap the offenders with a fine which they are able to pay and are released.
“The Penal Code and other related legislations on dangerous drugs are too weak to deal with this problem. You find that a person is arrested with possession of drugs worth K2 million but the court fines them a small amount. As a committee, we will suggest that these principal acts are revised to deter offenders here in Malawi,” he said.
The committee also observed that the drug trade seems to be mafia-like, involving law enforcement agencies at a high level.
Major said: “Our investigations show that Police are involved in this business and I will not retract that point. There have been cases cited where junior officers make an arrest but the case dies a natural death when Area 30 [Police headquarters] becomes involved. This should be looked into seriously.”
In the past, there have been cases of Malawian passport holders arrested in a foreign country on drug charges, who procured the passport illegally and were not nationals.
But the Immigration Department spokesperson Joseph Chauwa says following the tightening of security features on the Malawi passport and introduction of new processes for acquiring a passport, these incidences have decreased.
He said: “As Immigration Department, we cannot be held responsible when people pass the borders with dangerous drugs, there are other players responsible for checking that. We mainly deal with travel documents and we cannot restrict the exit of any person.”
To ensure that only bona fide citizens get a Malawian passport, Chauwa said people now present themselves for an interview which has reduced cases of foreigners acquiring he travel document.
When queried on why Malawi has become such a popular conduit for dangerous drugs as observed by the Committee of Foreign Affairs, National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera could only emphasise that Malawi was not a source or producer of such drugs.
On the general observations by the committee that there is a weak security system that fails to apprehend drug smugglers at border posts, Kadadzera said he would only be able to comment on such once he consults seniors.
There have been many reported cases of drug trafficking involving Malawians in recent months.