GOVERNMENT has identified transit truckers as the biggest culprit responsible for significant volumes of smuggled goods entering Zimbabwe and has moved to plug the leakages that cost the country $1,5 billion annually.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
Smuggling has been detected through the identification of an unprecedented amount of products that have high punitive charges and attract duties finding themselves onto the market, into shops and on the streets.
The goods being smuggled include cigarettes, clothing, cooking oil, furniture, milk products, tooth paste, detergents and maheu, among others.
Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha told Standardbusiness last week that many goods were being smuggled into the country via transit cargo.
“We have discovered that much of the smuggling is done through transit cargo, where people tell us, for example, that a consignment is meant for Democratic Republic Congo when in fact whatever they are carrying is really meant for Zimbabwe,” Bimha said.
“But this is not a new phenomenon. We have had discussions with other countries…so because of the developments in the ICT, there is a lot of work which is happening within the ministries of Transport and Home Affairs. These developments are to look at the effectiveness of enhancing controls using ICT and making it less of the human factor.”
Bimha said he was in discussions with the Finance ministry and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and “I think we have now secured equipment which will enable us to do that [track smuggled goods] kind of work”.
He said when people broke the law, it did not mean that there were no controls but rather that the perpetrators were finding ways to circumvent the controls.
Cross-border traders have been blamed for fuelling the vice but they also point fingers elsewhere.
Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders Association secretary general Augustine Tawanda said although cross border traders smuggled goods into the country, the volumes that they brought in were much less than what truck drivers brought in.
“You look at the volumes of goods that are brought in by cross border traders against the total amount of goods smuggled into the country and you will find that cross border traders are bringing in insignificant volumes,” he said.
Tawanda said when government introduced a ban on shoe imports by putting all sorts of penalties and punitive charges, foreign-made shoes were still found all over the streets, meaning that someone else besides small-scale traders was bringing them in.
“As a representative of cross border traders, we can help to plug corruption if government creates a conducive environment,” he said.
Transit truckers usually smuggle goods by misrepresenting at border posts that their cargo is meant for other destinations other than Zimbabwe.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Busisa Moyo said smuggling was affecting the manufacturing sector as smuggled goods were cheaper than those produced locally.
“Smuggling is affecting our sector [manufacturing sector]. For example, you sell cooking oil into the retail market and compete with someone who has smuggled cooking oil from Tanzania or South Africa and is selling at half price. Obviously, this affects sales and factory capacity utilisation,” Moyo said.
“It happens with clothing, particularly the second-hand clothing. Some of the clothes are donated in Mozambique by Oxfam and these people [smugglers] go there and get the clothes which they are not even buying. You will then find that stores such as Edgars will be competing against something that is for free. We have to come up with policies that are inclusive and dis-incentivise people from smuggling.”
However, he said, it was important to understand the motive behind smuggling, which was unemployment.
Government is currently working on a tracking system that will monitor imported goods to plug smuggling.
Bimha said government was continuously looking at putting controls in place to remain ahead of smugglers.
“Whatever controls that are there are not 100% [efficient] and we need to continually review them. This is not an issue for the Home Affairs only as it is an all-embracing thing that we [government] have to come together to have a holistic approach to address it [smuggling],” Bimha said.
To minimise the effect of smuggling, CZI is seeking to link with cross border traders so that they get them to buy from South Africa and to expose these transit truck drivers.