Lawmakers have questioned the government’s suggestion that it will take five years to ban ivory trade in Hong Kong, saying it should be able to shorten the grace period. However, the government said speeding up the plan may be challenging.
They discussed a new three-step proposal submitted by the government to completely outlaw the trade at a Panel on Environmental Affairs meeting at the Legislative Council on Monday.
Dr. So Ping-man, acting deputy director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), said one of the problems lies in banning the existing ivory possession licences.
“Under the current law, only under certain circumstances can the director of AFCD void the possession licences, and a ban on the trade is not one of the conditions,” So said.
When lawmaker Elizabeth Quat asked what the conditions were, So replied that licences could be voided only if the holders provided bogus information or evidence when applying.
‘Why should we wait?’
Citing a report from the World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said the ban should be able to be implemented in 2018.
“[The government proposal] says the ivory trade in Hong Kong is generally inactive – we all feel it will not cause much effect on the industry, why should we wait?” he said.
Undersecretary for Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said the government’s approach was to pass laws to set up a deadline, but the WWF report’s concern was on cancelling the existing possession licences.
“We feel such practice [of the WWF] may be challenged,” Loh said. “I understand that from the NGO point of view it should be banned as soon as possible, but our point of view is that it must be feasible, fair and with legitimate expectations.”
An international ivory trade ban was implemented in 1990.
The Legislative Council passed a motion to ban the trade of ivory last year, and the Chief Executive included the ban as one of the visions in the policy address this year.
A suggestion in the government proposal that was not discussed at the meeting on Monday – the last one of the current LegCo term – was a review of the penalty.
The government did not suggest how much the penalty should be increased. The existing maximum penalty is a fine of HK$5 million and imprisonment of two years.
Alex Hofford from WildAid Hong Kong told HKFP that wildlife trafficking crimes have to be made indictable over the seven-year jail term threshold, so that the government can prosecute the arrested persons under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance.
He said without the ordinance at their disposal, the police’s Commercial Crimes Bureau or the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau “can never be leveraged to really get to the bottom of who the masterminds of the illegal wildlife trade really are.”
“That means, who exactly are the wildlife crime kingpins that we hear so much about?” he said. “We know they live in Hong Kong, but until now only the couriers or mules are getting caught on the border.”