Marble from Herat Smuggled Abroad
Even as President Ashraf Ghani gave the go ahead for greater railway connectivity with China that will boost investment in the Afghan marble sector, the smuggling of Herat marble is creating both huge losses for local factories and revenue for the government.
The provincial union of industrialists says the marble is being taken clandestinely into Iran in either the raw form or half processed.
Two years ago, President Ghani ordered security agencies to clamp down on marble smugglers. He also said that processing of marble should be handed over to local factories. But both Herat customs office and the union of industrialists say the order has not been enforced.
According to information provided by the assistant director of Herat Petroleum and Mines, Abdul Jamail Eliasi, there are 33 marble mines in the two districts of Chesht and Obae. Eliasi says marble from only 11 is being mined by 13 contracted companies. Roughly 21.5 tonnes of marble are being quarried from each mine every year.
Mohammad Anwar Rahmani, head of Herat customs office, says between 3,000 and 4,000 tonnes of marble are exported via Islam Qala port annually. He says the stones are either processed or half-done.
Rahmani has no doubt that if smuggling was stopped, the customs office's revenues would rise by 15 percent.
The figures for marble exports presented by the Herat customs office is very different to those from the department of petroleum and mines.
No one has the slightest idea where 276,000 tonnes of marble quarried from the 11 mines go. There are no figures also for how much of the marble is consumed within the country after processing.
While the law lays down that 70 percent of quarried marble must be processed locally, the head of the industrialists union of Herat, Hamidullah Khadem, says local factories work in fits and starts because of shortage of raw marble.
Khadem says there are 45 modern factories for processing marble. Unfortunately the top grade marble stones rarely come to these factories. Instead it is smuggled out of the country. The factories only get marble that is in the 35-45 percent purity category.
Tooryalai Ghawsi, a factory owner, explains smuggling has ruined his business. Farid Ahmad Mawlawizada, deputy director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries in Herat also confirms that the export of raw marble stones has cost millions of dollars of losses to the local marble processing factories.
Ahmad Shah Popal, executive manager of the union of owners of mines in Herat, denies the involvement of the mafia in either the export or the smuggling of marble from Herat. Neither was the claim of processing factories about shortage of raw stone correct, he said.
According to Popal, 70-75 percent of extracted marble stone in Herat is given to local factories for processing and only 10-15 percent is half-processed by the mining companies. He claimed 15,000-20,000 tonnes of marble is mined from each mine every year – 5 percent is first grade and the remaining either second or third grade.
According to him, stone processing companies want first grade marble and that is why six companies have stopped business in the past year.
Head of Herat Mines and Petroleum Eliasi blames mining companies and processing factories for using poor machinery and technology. This has caused a loss of 30 million Afs (436,800 USD) every year for the government, he says.
Herat police confirm there is smuggling of marble, and that they are trying to stop the smugglers. Gulbudin Alokozai, commander of the 5th brigade of border police, says that smuggling of many tonnes of marble in five trucks was prevented and the culprits were arrested.
Jailani Farhad, spokesperson for the Herat governor, says they had received reports last year about the smuggling of marble stone. He went on to add that preventive action was taken, arrests were made and the cases are in court.
The number of police in Chesht district has increased to ensure better policing.
Masouda Karookhi, Member of Parliament (MP) from Herat, claims marble that has been quarried and not processed is smuggled out of the country by mafia networks with influence in Parliament and the government. But she has not named any high ranking individuals or provided other evidence.
Khadem, head of the union of Herat industrialists also makes the same claim of a link between the smuggling networks and people with influence in the government. He also did not divulge the names of the individuals and insisted that divulging them would not solve the problem.
Meanwhile, Eliasi of Herat Petroleum and Mines says the owners of marble mining companies are neither in Parliament nor in the government. He insists the marble is not smuggled abroad but looted by armed opponents of the government and taken abroad.
Mining companies pay the government 3,000 Afs (44 USD) to extract one tonne of grade one marble, and between 500-900 Afs (7-13 USD) for grade two and three stone. He insists the office of petroleum and mines in Herat inspects the mining at least two or three times a month in Chesht and Obae districts. There has been no legal problem in extraction.
Abdul Qader Mufti, spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, said the law will be amended against smuggling.