Truckers, cross-border traders in unholy alliance

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The relationship between haulage truck drivers and cross-border traders has evolved over the years, coalescing into an unholy alliance that has seen many cross-border traders easily evading payment of duty for their merchandise.

Haulage truck drivers are often held responsible for a wide range of illicit dealings such as draining fuel from trucks, providing a lucrative market for sex workers in border towns and helping traders to “jump” (skip) the border.

Cross-border traders have mastered the art of evading duty and in some cases smuggling goods into the country. The drivers and cross-border traders are united by one goal: To make as much money as possible with as little expense as possible.

The two groups have joined hands in evading duty at all the borders in the country ‑ topping the list being Nyamapanda and Beitbridge border posts.

A stallholder at Mupedzanhamo flea market said she had established a strong relationship with haulage truck drivers and she only paid $40 for “smuggling” second-hand bales of clothes from Beira in Mozambique. She said she gets more than $300 for each bale. The syndicate does not only end there as Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officials are involved.

“Sometimes we are arrested if we use designated entry points, but we don’t have to worry as it only means cashing out a little more dollars to bribe the officials,” she said.

She said the unholy alliance did not end on being “professional and business only” as sometimes haulage truck drivers did not demand cash, but payment in “kind”.

“Remember the driver might be driving all the way from Tanzania or Democratic Republic of the Congo. He may not have seen his wife for two weeks and is sex-starved. Some cross-border traders end up compromising and sleeping with the driver as a token of appreciation,” she said.

Some cross-border traders said they source goods from as far as Malawi and use the same methods of stashing goods in the haulage truck as they pass all the transit points in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Haulage truck drivers said there was nothing sinister about their actions as they would only be “helping out”.

“Most drivers are developing their stands and some have extended families to take care of. Where do you think they get money. International and established companies used to pay well during the Zimbabwe dollar era.

Some of us were getting $200 in salaries and when we converted it on the black market, we would get a lot of money, but now one is given the same amount. We are now getting peanuts so we ‘supplement’ our salaries by carrying goods and passengers,” explained one driver.

Long distance bus drivers have also joined the league. Some of the cross-border traders do not have necessary documents, but the drivers just ask for even an expired passport.

“It is common knowledge that when we approach a border post, the driver asks for documents and if one happens not to have the papers, he is asked to put some cash in a book or a passport which is not valid and it’s the duty of the driver to talk to the officials,” explained another cross-border trader who refused to be identified.

The country is loosing millions of dollars as revenue because of such corrupt practices. A Zimra official said they constantly deployed inspectors on the roads, but the problem was that they did not have enough manpower and their vehicles have outlived their life span.

“Evading duty and smuggling of goods is a problem at almost every border in the world. We can say here in Zimbabwe we are lucky because cases of smuggling drugs are low compared to other countries.

More than 40 000 people have died trying to fight drug cartels in Mexico. The drugs were being smuggled into United States through the borders, but both countries have advanced technology at their borders,” said the official.

He acknowledged that they were aware that most traders try by all means not to declare their goods at border posts. There are unconfirmed reports that the traders using haulage trucks are smuggling expired drugs.

Areas like Huruyadzo shopping centre and Mupedzanhamo flea market are awash with drugs such as family planning pills at low prices raising suspicion that they may have been smuggled. One vendor claimed she could acquire anti-retroviral drugs at a very low price.

Cross-border traders blame the government for putting prohibitive tariffs hence their deals with haulage truck drivers. In a bid to resuscitate the textile industry, the government, through the Ministry of Finance, introduced duty on second-hand bales in 2010.

Last year, Zimra raided flea markets demanding proof second-hand bales were brought into the country legally. The illegally imported bales were later auctioned. Harare-based economic analyst Floyd Kadete said the government had to come up with a win-win situation with the traders so that they realised revenue.