Ivory-destruction officials reject calls to invite independent monitors (Hong Kong)


Bryan Harris, South China Morning Post

Date Published
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Officials in charge of the destruction of Hong Kong’s stockpile of illicit ivory have rejected any possible change that would allow independent third-party monitoring, despite calls to increase transparency from international conservationists and the government’s own advisers.
Unlike cities on the mainland and around the world – where the destruction of illegal ivory is typically a high-profile, publicised event – Hong Kong’s incinerations are tightly controlled, with only members of the government’s 15-member Endangered Species Advisory Committee permitted to monitor them.
The calls for greater transparency grew stronger last week after global conservation icon Richard Leakey said he found the current situation in Hong Kong “puzzling and worrying”.
“I think there is a need for complete transparency when burning a commodity that is clearly illegal … I would be concerned if the secrecy policy continued,” said Leakey, 70.
“Why is it secret? You keep secrets generally because you’re not doing a very good job. You may have personal reasons or vested interests.
“I think that a country as advanced as this and sophisticated as this, particularly with mainland China being more and more open with things like corruption, this should translate into policy across the region.”
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which handles the incineration of more than a tonne of illegal ivory every month, said it had devised the protocol to minimise risk of malpractice and ensure the ivory was thoroughly destroyed. “The current arrangement is considered appropriate,” said a spokesman for the department, adding that at least one member of the advisory committee had been invited to monitor each round of incinerations.
However, it is not known how many members of the committee have actually shown up to observe since the first load was destroyed last May.
The committee has been criticised by wildlife campaigners, who point to the number of members who are involved in the wildlife trade.
Paul Shin Kam-shing, a former chairman of the advisory committee, told the Sunday Morning Post there was no reason not to allow independent monitors. “Personally, I don’t see the problem. If I was [still] a member, I would say: Why not?”
Shaw Pang-chui, the current chairman of the advisory committee and a professor at Chinese University, said he attended the incineration only once at the facility in Tsing Yi and saw the destruction carried out in a “serious and meticulous manner”.
“I randomly checked some boxes to ensure the presence of ivory and also witnessed the loading of the boxes to the incinerator,” he said, but added that more publicity was needed and vowed to raise the issue with the government.