As Tet (Lunar New Year) nears, Illegal firecracker trading has become an increasingly difficult problem to manage, according to the customs office of Tan Thanh, northern province of Lang Son.
Officials inspect illegal firecrackers which were seized last Saturday in Quang Ninh Province’s Border Guard Station No 11. The station seized nearly 700kg of firecrackers.
At the end of November, 2009, provincial police uncovered seven cases involving firecracker sales. Out of 300 kilos of firecrackers, a batch of new extremely dangerous models were uncovered.
In the last six months of 2009, the northern border province of Quang Ninh dealt with 54 cases, arrested 42 people, and seized 4.34 tonnes of firecrackers. However, only 15 cases reached trial, the others remain under investigation due to a lack of leads.
Ha Noi authorities have also taken action by arresting mainly retail sellers. Nguyen Thi Uyen from Thuong Tin District kept 70 kilos of firecracker in her house. Three other sellers from the northern province of Thai Binh had to hand over 16.6 kilos.
“This year, firecracker trading has taken place earlier, and involved new methods of transportation,” said Thuong.
The most common way firecrackers are transported is by motorbike, with cross-border smuggling done using rarely used routes and avoiding official border gates. Newer ways include using taxis or a porter carrying a small pack of firecrackers has made detecting the smuggling more difficult.
“Currently, according to regulations, sellers will not be prosecuted if they are found to be transporting under 30 kilos. Taking advantage of this, sellers divide the packages into smaller ones,” added Thuong.
When chased by police, violators have been known to use violence.
“Refusing to provide information about who owns the goods is another way that transporters can avoid punishment,” said Nguyen Huu Tuoc, head of the police department of Quang Ninh.
At the moment, with the case of under 30 kilos, customs officers are empowered to issue a hefty fine. With the bigger cases, violators are sent to court.
Another obstacle is the lack of storehouses for the huge amounts of confiscated firecrackers, according to one official from market control team.
“Destroying firecrackers is not a simple matter because it is often the only evidence of criminal behaviour. Plus some types are extremely difficult to destroy safely,” he added.
In order to effectively control the situation, closer co-operation between local and central authorities is necessary.
The General Department of Customs has issued documents 606/TCHQ-DT and 572/TCHQ-DT to ask local customs departments to actively join the fight against firecracker trading. Besides the direct involvement of local officials, people are encouraged to report to the police if they discover any violations.
Customs officers also need to improve the inspection of goods traded at the border, especially goods without clear stamps of origin, or chemical substances.