Issues hindering forensic growth

What you need to know:

  • Currently, only the Government Chemist Laboratory Authority, which is ISO compliant and accredited, can conduct forensic analysis

Dar es Salaam. According to forensic experts, Tanzania’s forensic certification services are hampered from meeting local and international accreditation standards due to a lack of mandatory standardization, certification, and accreditation.

Speaking exclusively to The Citizen recently, Mr Wilson Jilala, a forensic expert from the National Museum of Tanzania, said: “By being accredited, you avoid providing services that might be questionable and rejected in court.”

According to him, forensic evidence is the most important investigative tool available to the country’s adversarial system of justice and can help identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent.

“Therefore, the accreditation of such laboratories signifies that the basis of a quality system is in place and operational. However, many laboratories in Tanzania are unable to provide services because they are not ISO compliant or accredited.

“Many laboratories located in universities and other government and non-government institutions have modern equipment and can thus provide forensic services if approved, empowered, and accredited,” he adds.

Mr Jilala explained that, currently, only the Government Chemist Laboratory Authority (GCLA), which is ISO compliant and accredited, can conduct analysis of samples related to forensic sciences.

Therefore, he said, “There is a need for forensic services to be deployed in all regions and districts by establishing forensic units in relevant areas. At present, all forensic services are provided in Dar es Salaam in the laboratories of the Tanzania Police Force and GCLA.”

Mr Jilala was of the view that having a central lab in Dar es Salaam contributed to the mishandling and contamination of forensic evidence, especially if samples are taken from a distance.

According to the forensic expert, the packaging and distance make the evidence vulnerable to contamination.And when DNA contamination occurs in forensic science, it has the potential to change the outcome of a criminal investigation and may have significant social and financial repercussions.

As a result, decentralization of the aforementioned services would reduce any deliberate attempt to tamper with forensic evidence while also making a second opinion available.

According to him, currently there is no room for a second opinion as there is only one GCLA in Dar es Salaam, which is accredited by the decentralization of forensic services to provide room for another scientific look or another scientific opinion.

“For so many years, Tanzania has had numerous forensic-related issues reported in wildlife, banking, the media, and academia that went unnoticed due to a lack of enough experts assisting in professional investigation, analysis, and reporting,” he said.

At present, forensic fingerprints and documented evidence provided by the Forensic Bureau of the Tanzania Police Force are the leading ones in that most scientific witnesses are presented in court, followed by DNA and illicit drug experts in many cases.

“Another issue is that forensic science has been used only when there is a more serious crime than in small incidents, which makes this profession less visible to most people and its services accessible to very few people as well,” he observed.