By Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
The quest to boost productivity in industries and to grow the national economy has seen Zimbabwe, like any other progressive nation in the world, coming up with a raft of measures to remove trade barriers and improve the movement of goods and people through its borders.
In 2014, the Cabinet approved the setting up of the National Ports Authority (NPA) to coordinate operations and attend to teething challenges at the country’s ports of entry.
It is reported that currently, the Attorney-General’s Office is finalising the legal framework to operationalise the NPA.
Further, it has been proposed that, under the new order, the NPA will fall under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development.
This is the body expected to deal with operations, administration, security and health, among other issues.
Currently, any department or Government agency can implement their own programmes, rules and regulations at the country’s borders, at the expense of other players including travellers and importers.
Stakeholders at the ports of entry include the Department of Immigration, insurance companies, Zimra, police (uniformed, detectives, PISI), Ministry of Health, Environmental Management Agency, Forestry Commission, Transport, Veterinary Services and Agriculture.
The mushrooming of stakeholders at the ports of entry, especially at Beitbridge Border Post, has brought with it a lot of agony for businesses, travellers and visitors since they have to comply with more than a dozen regulations under these agencies.
In short, the status quo has given border workers too much power to abuse people apart from promoting rent-seeking activities.
This, no doubt, is taking its toll on the New Dispensation’s “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra, considering that travellers have to pass through many hurdles to enter or leave the country.
Most cases people find it difficult to raise issues of concern in a set-up where there is no one in charge or takes overall responsibility for border operations.
This is in stark contrast to South Africa where border operations are harmonised under a ports authority which falls under their Ministry of Home Affairs.
It is also believed that the NPA will attend to, among other issues, the expansion and upgrading of the border infrastructure and also put systems in place which would make Zimbabwe a first-class trade partner regionally and internationally.
The availability of key infrastructure at Beitbridge is crucial to the successful implementation of the One-Stop Border Initiative with South Africa.
At the moment the border post is in a sorry state and efforts to rehabilitate the place by Zimra since 2001 are yet to bear fruit. However, the new political dispensation under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa has adopted robust policies to stimulate economic growth through the “Zimbabwe is open for business” initiative.
As part of the initiative (opening up for business), Government has engaged ZimBorders to modernise Beitbridge into a commercial hub at a cost of $241 million.
Recently, Beitbridge Town was declared a Special Economic Zone to steer developments relating to the ease of doing business at the border.
The Head of State and Government has since laid the foundation to pave way for civil works at the country’s and Sadc’s busiest inland port.
Works under the modernisation programme include construction of more (commercial) customs offices, paving, and expansion of sewer and water reticulation facilities, separation of traffic into buses, light vehicles, tourists, commercial vehicles, and construction of a commercial bridge to link with South Africa, and the upgrading of Beitbridge Municipality’s key infrastructure.
As part of accelerating the One-Stop-Border-Post (OSBP) concept, last year South Africa launched a logistics hub in Musina to ease the cost of doing business and promote regional and international trade among Sadc states.
The hub is the brainchild of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora and is a culmination of a partnership between Lion Share, Burbey Group, Barloworld, Mac and Transnet.
It is thus critical that the Beitbridge modernisation programme fits into the ideals of the NPA.
In addition, the NPA is encouraged to prioritise channelling part of the funds from Beitbridge Border Post towards the upgrading of the area and completion of other Government programmes stalled by an acute shortage of funds.
It is also important for the ports authority to tap into the Integrated Border Management (IBM) programme which was adopted by Government with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration in 2016.
The Herald is reliably informed that the overall objective of the IBM programme is to contribute to the establishment of a migration governance framework (policy, institutional and legislative) in Zimbabwe.
Such a framework supports state actors to manage migration in consultation with non-state actors and in a migrant-centred, gender-sensitive, rights upfront-based and development-oriented manner.
Another critical issue the NPA should urgently look at is the implementation of the OSBP concept between Zimbabwe and South Africa at Beitbridge, which was initiated by Sadc in 2006.
In the same year, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) identified the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia (Chirundu Border Post) for a similar initiative.
However, Comesa translated its plans into action at Chirundu on December 5, 2009. The hormonisation of operations at Chirundu has simplified the way of doing business.
Sadly, the dream has proved elusive at Beitbridge due to a number of challenges, among them bureaucracy on both Zimbabwe and South African authorities. The unavailability of adequate infrastructure has been cited as one of the hindrances to the concept.
The lack of a ports authority on the part of Zimbabwe has been the greatest undoing of the noble initiative.
Under the OSBP, travellers are cleared once for passage into either country. At the moment travellers have to queue twice for the same clearance processes to leave or enter Zimbabwe or South Africa.
It will also be very critical for the NPA to look into issues of rampant pollution at the border with border officials on the arrival commercial section and over 2000 residents living directly on the west of the border at risk of contracting TB and other diseases.
In addition to carbon toxins emitted by vehicles, there is a lot of fine dust blowing in this area 24 hours a day, as haulage trucks, buses and other vehicular traffic navigate through the border post.
Most people and businesses in Limpopo view suburb hardly open their windows despite the town’s high temperatures for fear of inhaling dust.
Besides the border post, the town’s major water treatment plant is also located 1km west of the port and is not exempt from pollution.
It is common knowledge that when this border was designed, it was meant to cater for minimal human and vehicular traffic oblivious of the growth due many factors including regional trade and globalisation.
The volume of traffic and people has been increasing each year with a total of 170 000 people, 15 000 trucks, 30 000 light vehicles and 2 500 buses accessing Beitbridge Border Post per month.
The Government has over a decade been trying to upgrade the port of entry into a modern urban centre without success due of a number of challenges including funding and bureaucracy.
According to Zimra, Beitbridge alone contributes 70 percent of its revenue. Zimra provides 30 percent of the Government’s revenue collection, an average of $400 million annualy.
The coming in of the new administration has seen things improving for the better at the border where the volume of transit cargo passing through Beitbridge increased by 48 percent in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period last year.
However, more fruitful results at Beitbridge and other ports could be recorded with the NPA in charge of operations attending to issues as and when they arise.
Delays at the border are attributed mainly to human resource shortages. Currently, Zimra as around 300 workers against a requirement of at least 500 to operate at full strength.
This shortage of manpower has also given leeway to the current crop of Zimra officers and other border agencies to extort money from stranded travellers in order to expedite their services.
Analysts believe that the lack of coordination and accountability among several stakeholders at the border has created a lot of room for rent-seeking and inefficiency.
Until the Government completes the setting up of the NPA, any efforts to improve service delivery and efficiency will go to waste.
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Source : The Herald