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Border chaos: National Ports Authority the missing link

by Staff reporter
18 Oct 2021 at 06:26hrs | Views
The Government has over the years come up with a number of strategies to remove trade barriers and enhance the smooth flow of people and cargo through its land borders.

This is being done with the envisaged view to boost international trade and realise the desired dream for improved intra-continental trade.

That drive has seen the Government signing a 17 – and -half year Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement with the Zimborders Consortium to modernise the Beitbridge Border Post at a cost of US$300 million.

The project is being rolled out in three phases including a new freight terminal with new weighbridges, border roads, ICT facilities, fire-suppression system, and new warehouses under phase one.

Phase two has the construction of the light vehicle, buses, and pedestrians terminals while phase three include outside projects like e construction of a fire station, upgrading of roads, water and sanitation facilities, and the construction of 264 houses for border workers deployed to Beitbridge. The new freight terminal opened to commercial traffic two weeks ago, albeit with a lot of challenges that have created a traffic gridlock on the Zimbabwean and South African components of the border.

The other two phases are on-going and are set for completion in December next year.

A volatile situation has been building up at the border in the last two weeks and gradually things seem to be getting heated between transporters, truck drivers, and the border authorities.

The truck drivers have been spending at least a week in the queue attempting to leave or enter Zimbabwe due to the poor coordination, slow services, rent-seeking activities and mercenary attitudes by some border stakeholders.

Last Sunday scores of truckers blocked traffic into either of the two neighbouring countries in protest over long delays or the new tolling system being rolled out by Zimborders and the more "unnecessary" checkpoints at the Zimbabwe border.

The bridge was blocked for four hours only to be opened by security from both countries.

After which, the drivers have engaged in another passive protest where they just park the vehicles on the road arguing that Zimbabwe must reorganise its border traffic flow system first and review the high access fees at the new freight terminal.

To recoup part of the costs used on the project, the Zimborders Consortium, is charging US$115 for heavy vehicles (rigid trucks), US$200 for commercial trucks, and US$344 for abnormal lord vehicles. In addition, the trucks are expected to pay US$23 to the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) for using the New Limpopo Bridge.

Previously, all vehicles were paying only bridge toll fees from US$9 to US$100 at Zinara.

Investigations by the Herald reveal that trucks are stopped at least eight points before completely leaving the Zimbabweans border and stopping at three points on the South African side. In Zimbabwe, they are stopped at the weighbridge and go through security checkpoints before being checked for compliance at the Zimra commercial section.

In addition to this, they are stopped by various stakeholders including agriculture, the environment, and various security inspectors.

In fact, there is no synchronisation, the payments for various levies are done on a chain of counters.

However, in South Africa, SARS is the lead agency on customs issues and trucks are stopped when entering the customs yard and stop in the customs yard before stopping once at the exit gate.

Checks are done by customs guards only and the security-only acts on referrals. On human movement, the Department of Home Affairs is in charge.

South Africa runs with a Border Management Authority responsible for all administrative and operational issues.

Analysts believe that the lack of coordination and accountability of several stakeholders at the border has created a lot of room for rent-seeking behaviour which has led to inefficiency.

In 2014, the Cabinet approved the setting up of the National Ports Authority (NPA) to coordinate operations and attend to teething challenges at the port of entries on the dot, just like what happens on the South Africa side.

However, the NPA is yet to commence its operations due to delays in the corridors of Government. According to the proposal, the Authority (NPA) will fall under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development, and will be charged with the running affairs at all the country's entry and exit points.

Such a port authority will deal with operations, administrative, security, health, among other issues.

As it stands, at Beitbridge, people are finding it difficult to raise issues of concern as there is no one in charge of the place or any authority superintending operations. Adding on to the matrix is the Zimborders which will be collecting toll fees, managing the infrastructure.

To some extent this has complicated the already chaotic situation because of poor coordination among the critical agencies.

Due to the current chaos at Beitbridge, some transporters have reverted to using the Gobblers' Bridge border between South Africa and Botswana via the Kazungula Bridge.

Statistics show that trucks using Beitbridge have declined from 1200 to 750 daily and those at Gobblers' Bridge have increased from 100 to around 250 daily.

Considering the level of investment by the government and its partners, it is only prudent that Government operationalise the proposed NPA to improve service delivery and efficiency and to streamline the number of agencies at the border, just like what the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is doing at the airports.

Further, there is a need to synchronise operations at the borders to minimise the number of checkpoints and the processes and importer or traveller spends on a simple process.

In addition, fines against those trucks arriving at the border without papers should be increased because they always fill the customs yard and this leads to congestion at the bridge and ultimately the low number of trucks being cleared daily. As a result, the Government is losing revenue and this also defeats the whole ease of doing business agenda.

It has become apparent that the NPA is the missing link to the ease of doing business and in essence any investment without accountability and coordination of stakeholders at the border will be a waste of time and resources.

Source - The Herald