via NPA has potential to ease border challenges | The Herald 17 July 2014 by Thupeyo Muleya
Most visitors to Zimbabwe are received with the “We are Here to Serve” inscriptions at the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority offices dotted across the country’s ports of entry.
The welcome message at our ports of entry psychologically prepares visitors for on-the-dot type of service.
Sadly, that service has been but a dream since Zimra’s inception in 2001.
Zimra has become a nightmare for importers and exporters because of the treatment they get at the country’s border posts, especially in Beitbridge.
Congestion has, of late, become the order of the day at Beitbridge Border Post with fingers directed at officials at the border especially from Zimra.
However, Zimra says most of the delays are a result of human resource shortages.
Zimra Beitbridge has a staff complement of 278 although it needs 400 officers to operate at full throttle.
This manpower shortage has contributed to rising cases of extortion.
In most cases people spend long hours or days trying to clear their goods with Zimra amid reports of a casual approach to business by officials.
At Beitbridge customs officers at the red route zone (where people with goods to declare are assisted) popularly known as Kugomba, top the list of inefficiency and arrogance with travellers bearing the brunt of the atrocious service.
Further, lack of specialisation among customs officers who are transferred regularly has created more problems than solutions for importers and other travellers.
Analysts believe that lack of co-ordination and accountability at the border posts have created a lot of room for inefficiency.
Government has however been forced to clear the mess at the border, especially during holidays.
Cabinet recently approved the setting up of the National Ports Authority to co-ordinate operations and attend to challenges at Zimbabwe’s ports of entry.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Obert Mpofu said recently the NPA would be tasked with the running of all the country’s entry and exit points under the aegis of his ministry.
He said such a ports authority would deal with operations, administration, security, health, among other issues.
Government departments at border posts can, at the moment, implement their programmes anyhow regardless of the effects on other parties.
Some of the stakeholders at the border posts are the Department of Immigration, insurance companies, ZIMRA, Police, Ministries of Health, Environmental Management Authority, Forestry Commission, Transport, Veterinary Services, Agriculture and private security companies among other security agents.
There was chaos at Beitbridge Border Post recently when commercial cargo was stuck for about four days with truckers and clearing agents blaming Zimra for the delays.
The introduction of 100 percent searches on all commercial cargo despite having inadequate staff has added to the chaos. This also led to an anti-Zimra protest by truck drivers.
It is also understood that ZIMRA had dispatched teams from its Loss Control department to curb increased smuggling cases.
Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi hailed the NPA as a noble idea.
“It is important to have a board of authority at our ports just like is the situation at the airports where we have the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe co-ordinating the operations.
“In our view, CAAZ has been doing a good job in coordinating various arms of Government at our airports. Basically we do not have any confusion at our ports of entry though issues around delays lie mostly with ZIMRA where several travellers queue to pay excise duty among other taxes.”
He added: “As Home Affairs our main mandate is to facilitate a smooth passage for travellers with valid travel documents and to provide security at these ports of entry.”
Minister Mohadi said his ministry would be grateful if the ports’ authority availed funds to expand the borders such as Beitbridge where infrastructure is also a challenge.
He said the one-stop border post concept at Beitbridge would go a long way in addressing delays and congestion.
Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to Minister Mohadi, were yet to finalise a memorandum of understanding over the implementation of the one-stop border post concept.
The Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Joseph Musariri bemoaned the situation at the border.
“Some functions and services duplicate each other and we believe there should be a review with some of the revenue collection tasks taken back to Zimra. As SFAAZ we are in full support of Government’s decision to set up an NPA, an independent legislative body dealing specifically with issues regarding the operations at our borders.”
He said South Africa had such an authority making it easy to deal with operational and administrative issues.
Mr Musariri said some of the delays were caused by such issues as lack of monitoring adding that with the establishment of the authority, service delivery would improve.
“It is sad that Zimra appears to be the leading agent in terms of infrastructure maintenance and ownership but you will note that most of the problems at our borders emanate from the same organisation.
“This is very awkward and it is a difficult situation to deal with considering you will be complaining to the same organisation about its services,” he said.
Mr Musariri said they were also lobbying for Government to set up an accreditation body for customs clearing agents and freight forwarders which would go a long way in addressing issues such as corruption.
“We feel that it will be of great value if we have an independent accreditation body and a national code of conduct for customs clearing agents.
We are concerned with the level of unprofessionalism in the industry,” he said.
Regular cross border travellers said the NPA would go a long way in addressing challenges especially unnecessary delays.
It is also believed that the NPA will attend to among other issues the expansion and upgrading of the border infrastructure while putting in place systems that make Zimbabwe a good trade partner.
Beitbridge Border Post is in a sorry state and Government’s efforts to rehabilitate it since 2001 are yet to bear fruit.
Only time will tell when the authority will get the duty free shop at Beitbridge Border Post functional since the building has become a white elephant.
Further, the board’s priority areas should be channeling funds from the Beitbridge Bridge Fund towards the completion of the 64 garden flats that were under construction under the Beitbridge Redevelopment Programme.
Construction has been stalled by an acute shortage of funds.
Government needs at least US$2 million to complete the flats which will house most of its workers in the border town.