THE Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) says the wearing of face masks after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for officers to identify suspects during operations.

Responding to a press query on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected operations of the Commission, DEC public relations officer Mathias Kamanga said some DEC officers were exposed to COVID-19 through interactions with suspects who were asymptomatic.

“The use of masks made it difficult for officers to identify suspects during operations. Suspects had to be tested for COVID-19 before they could be taken to Zambia Police for detention. This meant that more time was being spent in an operation than before. Some officers were exposed to the virus through interaction with suspects that were asymptomatic,” he said.

Kamanga said during the peak of the pandemic, the Commission closed off its offices to outsiders, including witnesses and suspects, to avoid exposure to the virus, which led to stalled investigations.

He stated that the closure of most schools and workplaces also led to an increase in drug and substance abuse activities.

“During the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the operations of the Commission have been affected in various ways. These include the following: At the peak of the pandemic, officers had to go on rotational schedules to help in decongesting the offices in an effort to adhere to the social distancing recommendation from the five golden rules for COVID-19. Most of the cooperating partners from whom the Commission gets information necessary in investigations started working from home and as such there was delayed access to information. The Commission closed off its offices to outsiders including witnesses and suspects to avoid exposure to the virus. This led to stalled investigations, especially from the anti-money laundering side,” Kamanga said.

“Field officers from the drug side could not go out as much as they usually do owing to the restrictions that came with the pandemic. On the other hand, most schools had closed and most workplaces had asked their employees to work from home and this basically meant that most people had more time at their hands which led to the increase in drug and substance abuse activities.”

Kamanga, however, said the Commission had adapted to the new normal and was currently operating at full capacity.

“These and many others are the ways in which the pandemic affected the work of the Commission. However, over the period, DEC has adapted to the new normal and found ways of mitigating the impact. The Commission is currently operating at full capacity and with the same resilience as before. DEC is an investigative Commission established under Article 235(b) of the Zambian Constitution. DEC has the mandates to investigate all drug related cases, raise awareness on the dangers of drug and substance abuse and offer treatment and rehabilitation services to members of the public as stipulated in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act No. 35 of 2021. The Commission is also responsible for investigating financial crimes and money laundering as stated in the Prohibition and Prevention of Money Laundering Act No. 14 of 2001,” stated Kamanga.

“The work of the Commission is mainly to receive suspected drug or money laundering related cases, conduct investigations and submit dockets to the National Prosecutions Authority for prosecution. It also has a Unit that goes out to various communities to offer drug and substance abuse awareness activities. Members of the public that may be drug dependent come to DEC offices for counseling and treatment services.”