Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Business Senior Reporter
Government has mooted plans to extend operating hours at Forbes border post in Mutare to 24 hours as part of efforts to improve efficiencies and ease the congestion currently being experienced at the port of entry.
The decision comes after Manicaland, through the office of the Provincial Administrator Mr Edgar Seenza, submitted an application to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and immigration departments for an extension of operating hours at the border post.
The port of entry currently operates between 6am and 8pm on a daily basis.
“There has been an increase in the number of travellers that pass through Forbes border post and we have been struggling to cope resulting in serious congestion at the border post. We have submitted an application to make the border a 24 hour post to the relevant authorities and we now wait for government’s response to it,” Mr Seenza said last week.
In emailed responses to questions sent by Post Business, Zimra acting head of corporate communications Mr Taungana Ndoro, said the implementation of a 24 hour facility at Forbes was part of various trade facilitation initiatives being worked on.
He said although there were no set time-lines in which the initiative would be approved, a Memorandum of Understanding on customs co-operation was already in place between Zimra and the Mozambican customs.
“The time-line is dependent on various issues, both national and extra territorial.
“The 24-hour operations involve not just ZIMRA, but other border stakeholders such as Immigration and other Government departments which need to ensure that they have adequate resources to cater for the added 16 hours. It also involves engagements with the Mozambican Government and the customs authorities,” he said.
Mr Ndoro said congestion at the port of entry was mainly as a result of increased commercial traffic vis-a-vis the limited infrastructural facilities to handle the traffic volume. He said the tax authority had put in place various measures to ease congestion at Forbes while they wait for the approval of the 24 hour border.
“Unlike other border posts, Forbes does not have commercial vehicle parking facilities where trucks can park while awaiting clearance of their cargo.
“In the meantime, Zimra has introduced pre-clearance facility which mandates clearing agents and importers to submit their import clearance documents online and pay the requisite duties and taxes before the goods arrive at the border,” he added.
The pre-clearance facility allows importers to clear their goods when they are still at high seas and facilitates faster release of the cargo when it arrives at the port of entry. Mr Ndoro said Zimra also had in place a facility which allowed the release and movement of un-cleared cargo under embargo to a container depot and a transit shed situated about 5km from the border.
“The Authority also allows cargo targeted for physical examination to move to container depots or transit sheds situated in other towns and nearest to the importer’s place of business,” he said.
Despite the existence of such facilities, there have been concerns from clearing agents that the infrastructure at the border post has not been able to cater for the increased movement of goods and people.
There have been calls for Government to expand the border post.
“Zimra is in the process of engaging the responsible authorities for the provision of space for the expansion of the border. As we gear ourselves to align to the President and Government’s mantra of “Zimbabwe open for business”, one of our strategic focus areas for the period 2019 to 2023 is the improvement and upgrading of our border infrastructure,” said Mr Ndoro.
He said the tax authority would submit a budget for these projects to the Ministry of Finance and economic Development for approval and allocation of funding.
“Forbes is one of our priority areas. We therefore trust that all stakeholders operating at the respective border posts will make the necessary preparations and we look forward to the support of the relevant stakeholders in improving our facilities for improved trade facilitation and service delivery,” he said.
Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe chief executive Mr Joseph Musariri said the agents were not ready for a 24 hour border post as their staff compliment would not be able to cope.
“We feel it is premature to extend border operation hours at this stage because the current operating hours are not being fully utilised and staff constraints could negatively affect us. There are also no proper office facilities for our members currently so if the border operates 24 hours, we could be negatively affected,” he said.