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Chaos for hauliers at Zim borders

Transporting goods to, or through, Zimbabwe has become more expensive, time consuming and dangerous for transporters since the amendment to the Zimbabwean Customs and Excise Regulation Act. NKOSINI NGWENYA reports.

As the world waits to see what the future of Zimbabwean politics holds, chaos continues to reign supreme for transporters moving goods to, or through, Zimbabwe. This is a result of the sudden implementation of the new Zimbabwe Statuary Instrument (SI) 113 of 2017, Amendment of the Customs and Excise (General) Regulations, SI 154 of 2001, section 60.

The new amendment has resulted in a lot of confusion, as truckers are expected to comply with the new requirements in order to cross the border. Authorities at the border posts now require that all transport vehicles must be fitted with Customs seals to conform to the new amendment.

“When truckers get to the border, they have to wait for Customs seals and the removal of existing seals (which are required by consignors to verify load integrity). The Zimbabwean border authorities refuse to endorse documents after seals are tampered with, or removed. Vehicles are also damaged as a result of the drilling of holes to fit new seals,” explains Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta).

As a result of these new regulations, queues are more than ten kilometres long and trucks are delayed for between 72 and 120 hours while waiting for seals in order to cross the border.

The delays are further compounded by the large amount of money that must be paid in cash (in United States dollars), harassment of drivers by authorities regarding routes, and countless police road blocks, which contribute to reduced safety of vehicles and cargoes.

“Transporters have to deal with too much red tape. It can easily take weeks for a transporter to get clearance at the border as a result of all the red tape emanating from the implementation of the SI…

“It’s extremely frustrating for the drivers – most of whom are expected to keep to a tight schedule. They are often forced to sit and wait at the border posts under inhumane conditions without basic amenities such as bathrooms and toilets. For example, at the Beitbridge border alone, transporters wait for three to seven days,” explains Harold Reed, director at Central African Road Services (CARS).

“The delay of transporters at the Zimbabwean border posts has huge financial consequences as some of the goods transported are perishable… The environment must also be taken into account as more than 100 drivers and others, who are stuck in the queue for several days, must cook, eat and pollute – all of which contributes extreme danger to the chaotic situation,” further argues Fitzmaurice.

On September 20, tragedy struck at the Forbes-Machipanda Border Post between Zimbabwe and Mozambique – largely due to the delays affecting the border post. A tanker drove over and killed a child, who was playing under the truck that had been stationary for hours. The truck driver moved along the queue not knowing that the child was under his truck.

(The event was reported on in issue 10/2017 of FOCUS – ed.)

In an attempt to address the situation, Fitzmaurice wrote a letter via email on September 19 (a day before the tragedy) to the Commissioner General of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA).

In the letter, Fitzmaurice strongly opposed the new amendment. He argued that it constituted a “non-tariff barrier and a further obstruction of regional trade”. He further made an urgent request for a review and revision of the SI.

He received no acknowledgement or response to the email, further adding to Fesarta’s frustration with the administrative processes at Zimbabwean border posts.

Among the most common problems identified by Fesarta at the Zimbabwean border posts are:

• Vehicles are delayed for up to 24 hours while waiting for the seals.

• ZIMRA officials remove existing seals to fit their own seal and then do not replace the seals when their electronic seals are removed.

• They have refused to endorse the documents when seals have been removed.

• They have damaged equipment and gone so far as to use a drill on a loaded fuel tanker to drill a large hole in order to fit their seal.

• Where one of their own seals was incorrectly fitted and fell off the truck, they then cut other seals and drew samples of the product to ensure it had not been contaminated. No explanation was given and the customer consequently rejected the load as its integrity had been compromised.

• Transporters are expected to adhere to routes stipulated by ZIMRA. Transporters have route risk assessments on all their routes, which are determined according to a number of factors including distance and safety. This is pertinent to Zimbabwe where the road infrastructure is deteriorating.

• Beyond the instruction to pay for the seals, transporters are further expected to pay the costs of escorts.

It seems that, despite mounting evidence of maladministration at the border posts and pleas to resolve this issue, ZIMRA officials have their attention firmly fixed on the revenue generated from granting transporters the right of passage through Zimbabwe. Over the years transporters have paid a fortune to use the Zimbabwean routes, but there are no signs of improvement to the roads.

“Transporters are required pay a hefty fee for transporting hazardous cargo, yet, in the event of an accident, there is no support. The charges levied on transporters at Zimbabwe’s ports of entry make it the most expensive country to cross into in southern and eastern Africa and its border posts have become nothing other than a source of revenue for the government,” concludes Fitzmaurice.

Reed reiterates the arguments above. He points out: “There are way too many police roadblocks. Every 20 to 30 km there are Zimbabwean Republic Police (ZRP) at a roadblock waiting to harass transporters by enforcing Zimbabwe’s SI on all foreign vehicles.”

He concludes: “This goes against the spirit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that is geared towards forging a harmonised system between member countries.”

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.

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