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  Today Online 18 Jan 06
Going straight for the jugular Wednesday
Loh Chee Kong

TO Strengthen Singapore's fight against the illegal wildlife trade, the Ministry of National Development has introduced harsher penalties against traffickers of endangered species.

Yesterday, a Bill was passed in Parliament to double the maximum jail terms and raise the fine limit. Under the amendments, smugglers can be jailed for up to two years, up from the previous one year. The maximum fines for illegal trafficking of endangered species will be increased from $5,000 to $50,000. The fine applies to each animal or plant protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) seized, and is capped at $500,000.

Previously, offenders were fined according to species, and not the number seized. Singapore is a member of Cites, which regulates wildlife trade.

According to the International Police, the smuggling of wildlife generates profits of US$5 billion ($8.2 billion) annually, second only to narcotics.

On the need to cap the fine, MP Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC) asked: "If these illegal traffickers continue to commit such crimes despite the hefty penalties, why should the law help limit the financial risks they face upon prosecution?"

Nominated MP Geh Min said: "The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) does not have enough manpower? Higher penalties must be matched by greater enforcement."

Conceding the AVA's constraints, Minister of State for National Development Heng Chee How said that its structure and headcount would be reviewed.

Nonetheless, he stressed that the task goes beyond the AVA and requires concerted efforts from non-governmental organisations and international partners.

Mr Louis Ng, president of the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres), a local animal welfare group, welcomed the harsher punishments. According to Mr Ng, Singapore is one of the hubs for illegal wildlife trade and in certain cases, the shipments are worth as much as drugs.

Last year, a survey by the society found that one in five pet shops was selling endangered animals. Said Mr Ng: "The Government should clamp down on this the way it does the smuggling of drugs."

The Straits Times 18 Jan 06

AVA gets more teeth against illegal wildlife trade
by Lim Wei Chean

SMUGGLERS of endangered animals and plants will be slapped with penalties that have gone up 10-fold under the new Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act passed yesterday. Anyone found guilty of illegal wildlife trade will face a fine of $50,000 per species, up to a maximum total of $500,000, and imprisonment of up to two years. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has also been given more legal teeth to act against offenders.

Minister of State (National Development) Heng Chee How moved the changes to the Act, which was passed in March 1989 and last amended in 2000.

Under the new law, the AVA has the right to search and check any premises or person suspected of engaging in illegal wildlife trade. It also has the right to arrest offenders and confiscate specimens for investigation. Fake products that claim to contain parts of endangered species, such as traditional Chinese medicine that professes to contain rhinoceros horn, are treated as genuine and subject to the same penalties.

Mr Heng said according to Interpol, the illegal wildlife trade was second only to narcotics. Hence the tougher laws are necessary to protect Singapore's reputation as one of the world's busiest ports and a popular trans-shipment centre.

Dr Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC) and Nominated MP Geh Min applauded the changes. However, Dr Khor asked why the fine should be capped at $500,000, a sum which is small compared to the multi-billion-dollar illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Geh asked if the AVA has sufficient manpower to enforce the tougher laws.

Mr Heng said the quantum of the fine is in line with that levied by places such as Hong Kong. On manpower, he said the AVA will recruit more officers where needed. But he stressed that enforcement of the Act will depend on a network approach. There has to be cooperation between the police, immigration and checkpoints officers and non-governmental organisations.

ACRES website
Siva's habitatnews blog also commented on this report.

Full text of discussion of the bill at Parliament ENDANGERED SPECIES (IMPORT AND EXPORT) BILL

Illegal wildlife trade second only to drugs by Khushwant Singh The Straits Times 3 Jan 06
Whistle on wildlife Today Online 14 Nov 05
Related articles on Singapore: wildlife trade
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