Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Reporter
MINISTER of State for Manicaland Affairs Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba has lashed out the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority for allowing the chaos at Forbes border post to continue unabated resulting in unmanageable congestion and long queues stretching about 15km into Mozambique.
The border post, which caters for most goods in transit from the port of Beira, has been rendered ineffective for almost three weeks now, as trucks spend days waiting for customs clearance.
The minister on Monday visited Forbes with members of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) where she witnessed the long queues. She also toured the Mutare Dry Port facility, where she was advised that, despite not being fully occupied at the moment, there were trucks that had been in the holding bay for about 17 days due to irregularities that were picked by Zimra officials.
“As we speak, you say there are some trucks with 17 days here. What could be the issues keeping those trucks here without a solution? 17 days is too much, is it carrying weapons or something that threatens national security? Storage charges are accumulating on these trucks, don’t just sit and wait for the solutions to come to you. Engage whoever is supposed to intervene so that these trucks are cleared and released,” she said.
“This is a clear case of operational inefficiencies and it shows that you are not co-ordinating. Zimra and clearing agents, you throw the blame at each other but have you tried sitting down to come up with a quick solution to this? In this new dispensation, if you are not going to change the way we do business, we will get nowhere.”
Dr Gwaradzimba said there was an urgent need to improve on operational efficiencies to facilitate trade promotion.
“I don’t see why we should make news, nationally and internationally. Because the people we are delaying are enroute to other countries and they will say Zimbabwe is very difficult to work with. We are going to do whatever it takes and those winding queues will disappear. This pre-clearance facility should be utilised, have an incentive for importers who utilise it or a penalty for those who do not use it. We need to restore order here,” she said.
Zimra enforcement manager Mr Clifford Chamboko said the immediate solution to the crisis at the border was creating a mobile check point within the border premises to separate the truckers from ordinary people who used the border.
Currently, truckers, tourists and individuals who are crossing the border on business have to wait in the same queue to be cleared.
“We have acquired a mobile station but we had challenges with the supplier who has been putting some finishing touches on the structure. We hope that it will be delivered in the next two weeks,” he said.
He said some of the congestion was being caused by importers that were not pre-clearing their consignments to allow them quick passage through the border.
“We usually push trucks that reach the border before clearance is done inland through use of an embargo document and they go into the holding bay at Mutare Dry Port. But we have realised that some clearing agents instead of coming forward to process documents to facilitate movement of trucks to GMS, they are submitting entries into the system so that they appear as if it has been pre-cleared. So the clearance system takes a bit of time resulting in congestion and less traffic being moved to GMS,” said Mr Chamboko.
Zimra’s pre-clearance facility allows importers to submit their documents up to three weeks before the goods arrive at the border. The clearing agents have however said the pre-clearance facility was inefficient as there were still more processes for the importer to go through before the truck was released even after submitting their papers before reaching the border.
Shipping and Forwarding Agents Association of Zimbabwe vice chairperson Mr Godfrey Muswere said Government should streamline the processes done at the border post to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic.
“What creates congestion are the long procedures at this border post by Zimra. Instead of shooting through to the holding bay, trucks have to go through several procedures before they can go through. Experience has shown that even those that have pre-cleared their goods end up being in the same situation or even more delayed than those that come and present their documents as they wait,” he said.
Mr Muswere said the procedures done at the border could be reduced while the rest are deferred until the truck reached the holding bay.
“It is only a 7km patch. There can be a mechanism to monitor those trucks until they get into the holding bay. We should rationalise the procedures so that drivers just go to the holding point and be cleared from there,” he said.
Following the Minister’s follow up visit to the border post on Wednesday, Zimra had begun to move trucks into GMS but due to slow processes at that holding facility, trucks were still stuck. Truckers who spoke to The Manica Post said Zimra had only managed to move the congestion from the border area into the holding bay but the challenges were still the same.
“Yesterday the trucks moved into GMS but now the same trucks have to go through the scan, physical examination and then sealed. But these processes are almost the same so the queue has grown. Trucks that want to leave cannot because there are trucks waiting to be scanned closing off the exit. The space is too small to hold all these trucks,” said Mr Lexus Masango.
He said Zimra was failing to control the situation as the procedures at the border were still too many before a truck could be released.
“In Mozambique, we only spend five minutes or less at the customs desk because all clearance is done in Beira. But when we get to the Zimbabwean side, we then meet with people who are inefficient.
“Some of these trucks were pre-cleared but they cannot pass because they need to go through the scan, so they have to wait until those that are not yet cleared finish before it goes,” he said.