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If you pay you stay

We all need to get to the bottom of the sometimes surprising votes at the recent CITES Conference of Parties. Some of you might say – it’s done and dusted, now let’s hope for a better outcome at the next Conference of Parties in 2019 in Sri Lanka – but is this going to happen?

Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

At the last Conference, there were five “secret ballots” – dealing with rhino horn trading by Swaziland, ivory trading proposals by Namibia and Zimbabwe, listing all African elephants on Appendix I, and listing African grey parrots on Appendix I. CITES is the only UN convention to allow these secret ballots, and while some CITES Parties are opposed, the tradition continues.

In the first of a series of reviews, let’s have a look at Namibia’s failed attempt (this time) to allow unrestricted trade in ivory. Namibia’s proposal was defeated – 100 Parties opposed, 9 Parties abstained, but 27 Parties voted in agreement.

Namibia said this: “Namibia, with this proposal, wishes to establish a regular form of controlled trade in all elephant specimens, including ivory, in support of elephant conservation, including community-based conservation and the maintenance of elephant habitat. REVENUE FROM REGULATED TRADE WILL, AS PREVIOUSLY, BE MANAGED THROUGH A TRUST FUND AND USED EXCLUSIVELY FOR ELEPHANT CONSERVATION [capitals mine] and community conservation and development programmes within the elephant range.”
Well, this Game Products Trust Fund does not seem to be very trustworthy.  A reporter had this to say about the Fund: “Secrecy around information from public institutions [the Fund] which are mandated to report their finances openly, have blocked efforts to update some of the data used in this article. This trend in Namibia speaks to an unproductive ethos of preferring to operate in the dark while using state funds. Most of those reading this article probably have never heard of the Game Products Trust Fund [GPTF] or its important mandate. Yet, the Fund could and should play a more substantive role in national commitment to conservation and wildlife management”.

The GPTF has only made one, yes one, audited account available via the Namibia Auditor General’s report for 2008/2009. In that report, major expense items included bridge building, vehicle maintenance, purchase of rhino crates and trailers, elephant and rhino “monitoring”, payments in excess of N$ 11 million (55% of 2008 budget) to celebrate Etosha’s 100th “birthday”. Not exactly elephant conservation?

Thus Namibia’s claims that ivory sale funds were going to be used for elephant conservation are largely unsubstantiated.

Despite this, 27 CITES Parties voted in favour of Namibia’s proposal to sell ivory. Who were they? We can only speculate, as the vote was secret. But perhaps we can glean information from the list of nations which voted against uplisting all African elephants to Appendix I. Also supposedly a secret vote, but results leaked.

The likely positive voters would include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi, DR Congo, South Africa, Tanzania, and Swaziland. Those with vested interests in maintaining an ivory trade would include China, Japan, Myanmar, Norway, Korea, Vietnam. Those surprising nations that seem to be regularly persuaded to vote for ivory trade would include Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Fiji, Madagascar, Maldives, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tajikstan.  Throw in a few more Middle Eastern, South American or Caribbean nations and the total of 27 is not difficult to achieve.

You can bet that Namibia will resurface again in 2019 with another ivory sale proposal. Or just decide to ignore CITES as the fine print in their 2016 proposal already suggested?

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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:55