The Tanzania Mining Commission (TMC) appointed recently by President John Magufuli has uncovered rampant smuggling of the tanzanite gemstone from the Merelani mines despite the construction of a protective wall around the prime mining area as directed by the government.
Briefing reporters after visiting the mines, Commission Chairman Idris Kikula said the smuggling has reduced the monthly royalty collections from USD195000 to a measly USD17000.
However, the Manyara Regional Miners Association (Marema) chairman, Mr Sadick Mnenei, attributed the decline in royalties to a decline in operating capital.
"Capital for small-scale miners has decreased significantly due to the decline in money circulation," Mr Mnenei said - adding that the decline in agricultural products prices has also adversely impacted tanzanite production.
"Since mining is a longtime investment, I turned to farming pigeon peas alongside mining. But that business has also been hit hard, this has also impacted mining operations," Mr Mneinei explained. But, Prof Kikula accused tanzanite business agents of engaging in seriously cheating the authorities.
"Some of them are implicated in the smuggling and, since inspection is done manually for lack of modern inspection equipment at the exit, they easily smuggle out tanzanite," he said. "We have proposed that a specific tanzanite auctioning facility be built (within the walled area). This will enable the government to collect all the royalty it deserves," he stated, lamenting that the commission has noted an inordinate number of vehicles and people entering and leaving the mines, which could contribute to increased smuggling.
In that regard, the commission proposes that people should use special identity cards to gain entry into the sensitive areas, instead of national IDs or voter's registration cards.
Prof Kikula - who is also the University of Dodoma vice-chancellor - said unauthorized persons could scale the wall to enter and leave the mines because the wall hasn't been mounted with security and CCTV cameras. He nonetheless commended Suma-JKT for strengthening security around the periphery wall.
A tanzanite miner, Mr Joseph Kaaya, commended the government for building the wall to control smuggling. However, modern security equipment should be installed to sort out the criminals, he said.
Sh4 billion was used to construct the wall with the intention of curbing increasing tanzanite smuggling that made the neighbourhood a gemstone traders' paradise. President John Magufuli launched the wall 24.5km-long wall on April 6, 2018, which was built in the record time of three months by some 2,000 volunteers serving with the National Service.
Thereafter, the government collected $313000 in taxes from small-scale tanzanite miners between January and March, 2018. That amount was much higher than the USD74,388 collected in 2015 - and USD31,510 collected in 2016.