Beitbridge border post is of significant economic value to the country if the traffic is managed well, an economist has said.
Bulawayo-based economist, who is also the MDC-T MP for Bulawayo South and a member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Budget and Finance, Eddie Cross, said Zimbabwe was losing millions of dollars through failure to manage the biggest border post in Africa.
He said problems of corruption and congestion at the border post needed to be dealt with urgently because Zimbabwe and the region were losing out.
“Beitbridge is the biggest border post in Africa and has a huge national and economic significance,” said Cross. “Millions of dollars are lost per month in unnecessary costs due to corruption in particular.”
Cross said between January and December 2010 Beitbridge recorded movement of people, private vehicles, buses and heavy trucks of 3 633 017, which could translate into a lot of revenue collection if things were properly done.
“Delays in commercial traffic is a hindrance to the growth of tourism. I would say the situation in Beitbridge has reached crisis level,” Cross said.
He said the growth of traffic at the border has been extraordinary but the problems bedevilling the border needed urgent attention by everyone concerned.
“It is a huge business and if we run it properly it can make a significant profit for Zimbabwe. It has actually cost us a lot of money,” said Cross.
However, Zimra regional manager for Beitbridge, Moses Madongorere, said problems at the border were linked to a shortage of staff.
He told the committee led by Goromonzi North MP Paddy Zhanda that deployment of staff was difficult because there was no accommodation.
“For instance, the office where commercial documents are submitted by clearing agents is supposed to be occupied by eight officers, but there will be three or four officers to provide the services and process about 400 entries,” said Madongorere.
He said Beitbridge was meant to be a 24-hour border post to reduce pressure but the private sector (clearing agents) were closing at night and so efforts to reduce congestion were fruitless.
Madongorere said they were experiencing a lot of downtime in terms of connectivity and once TelOne lines were down the processing of documents was stalled.
“When a truck arrives late at night and the clearing agent is asleep, it means that truck driver will not move and the truck is stuck because clearing agents are not there. That is why it is important to have the private sector also operating 24 hours at the border,” Madongorere said.
On corruption, he said it was necessary for people accessing the border to also desist from bribing Zimra officers.
“We need cooperation from our colleagues in the private sector because such corruption makes commercial traffic to be delayed unnecessarily,” he said.
He said there were a lot of self-appointed agents who approached tourists and ended up swindling them.