The CEO of the Ministry of Revenue and Customs, Kelemete Vahe, has apologised for the mistake the Ministry has made by allowing banned products to enter the country.
Vahe was responding after the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (MAFF) issued a recall of canned pork the National Emergency Management Operation (NEMO) had distributed on Saturday.
Vahe said the products were blacklisted by MAFF and he was notified about the ban about two years ago.
Vahe said the problem occurred when the tsunami relief shipments were released from quarantine last week. The blacklist was overlooked due to most of the senior officers being isolated at home because of the Covid restriction guidelines.
He said not all officers were working at the same time. They worked in shifts to make sure there were staff at the borders while others were isolating at home
“In fact it was forgotten to remind those working at the time to look out for the banned products,” Vahe told Katalina Tohi of radio FM87.5 in Tongan.
“We apologise. They can be recalled and people are warned about them”.
Vahe said the matter was discussed with the Chinese embassy in Tonga as they have more relief shipments coming to the kingdom.
The government did not give further details as to why the products were recalled apart from Vahe saying the canned pork was “dangerous for animals”.
However, while Tohi interviewed Vahe this morning she claimed the recall was made in fear of “yellow swine fever” to which Vahe agreed and said in Tongan “’io, ko ia” which was in English he was saying – yes, it is.
Products should stop at border
The Minister of Disaster Poasi Tei said the canned pork products recalled by the government yesterday should have been stopped at the border.
He said he only became aware of the incident on Sunday and ordered a stop to any further distribution of the products.
Hon. Tei appeared to have questioned the MAFF about the way it handled the products.
“I greatly respect the Ministry of MAFF, but there was a procedure of identifying food which are banned from Tonga,” he said.
“It should have been stopped at the ports of entry whether it came through the airport or the wharf.”
Hon. Tei was responding after MAFF recalled the products on Saturday just hours after they were distributed in Tongatapu as part of the tsunami relief goods.
He said the government trusted that the relief aid donor countries only donated the best food.
“They would not like to tarnish their good reputation,” he said.
As we reported yesterday, MAFF warned residents on Saturday not to eat or dump the cans if they had been opened.
Photos of what appeared to be the products were shared on Facebook on Sunday.
It showed one of the apparent products with its label written in Asian and English languages.
One says: “Canned Pork Luncheon Meat”.
It also showed the company’s name, “Guangzhou Eagle-Coin Food Group Co. Ltd”.
The Chinese company was previously known as Guangdong Cannery and it said on its website that it integrated more than ten food and beverage enterprises, including Guangqixiang Cannery, Yangcheng food factory, Lingnan biscuit factory, Asian soda factory and Conghua Sanhua distillery.
Yellow swine fever caused a pandemic in 2009. The virus originated from pigs in a very small region of central Mexico.
From April 12 2009 to April 10, 2010, the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that there were 60.8 million cases with 274,304 hospitalisations and 12,469 deaths in the United States.
Chinese scientists discovered a new strain of the virus in 2020, which they said had the potential to spread to humans and cause another pandemic.
It is the third recent flu pandemic involving the H1N1 virus, the first being the 1918–1920 Spanish flu pandemic and the second being the 1977 Russian flu.
When Spanish flu reached Tonga in 1918, with the arrival of a ship carrying sick passengers, the infection spread rapidly.
It is estimated up to 8 percent of the population died as a result.
Coupled with a powerful tsunami which killed four, flattened houses andblanketed almost the whole country with think layer of ash, Tonga recorded its first community Covid cases last week.
The Prime Minister ordered a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday last week which was subject to a 48 hour review.
Yesterday the lockdown was extended for another 14 days after two more cases were detected bringing the total of the active cases to eight with an earlier case been recovered.