HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsParliament Budget Committee probes chaos at border posts

Parliament Budget Committee probes chaos at border posts

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The Parliamentary Budget Committee has completed fact-finding visits to Beitbridge, Forbes and Chirundu border posts and witnessed first-hand chaotic scenes at these ports of entry and exit and the extremely negative impact the problems are having on revenue collection.

The committee, which has a mandate to oversee the operations of the Finance ministry and its departments like the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), conducted public hearings during the visits and received depressing submissions from a cross-section of users of the border posts.

Parliamentarians were told of the grossly inefficient service offered by Zimra officials at the border posts. This has caused so many delays, affected the smooth flow of both passenger and commercial traffic and fuelled rampant corruption and leakages of public revenue at a time when the government has been complaining of limited fiscal space.

In fact, the situation continues to deteriorate by the day despite the committee visits and the huge public outcry.This writer had the misfortune of passing through Beitbridge Border Post a week ago and experienced delays of more than five hours just to pay road access fee of $10.

I could not understand why I had to be subjected to such torture when I did not have any goods to declare for customs duty purposes.

It would appear like the authorities at Zimra do not care a bit about the negative impact their conduct is causing to fiscal space and the performance of the economy.

In 2011, Zimra only collected $334,3 million from customs revenue while in 2010 a paltry $349,01 million was collected.

Surely Zimra could collect much more than this with an injection of sound procedures and a motivated and dedicated management and workforce? It is also disappointing to note the Finance minister seems powerless to stem the rot at Zimra.

As a department falling under his ministry, one would have expected Honourable Tendai Biti to enforce streamlining and strengthening of systems, procedures and generally the way the authority is managed.

If the chaos at border posts is a reflection of how the inclusive government has become dysfunctional, then we have to move with speed to create the necessary conditions for a free and fair election.

With the fact-finding visits completed, the committee must summon the Finance minister, the Zimra board and the Commissioner-General Gershem Pasi to give oral evidence on why for ages the countrys ports of entry and exit are still dogged by operational problems, some of which can easily be addressed.

While Clause 5 (1) of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Act says operations of the Authority shall be managed by the Revenue Board, it is the Commissioner-General who is the main person in the operations of Zimra. He is therefore answerable for the operational challenges facing the authority.

There is another provision in the Revenue Act of major interest to Parliament. It says as soon as possible after the end of each financial year, the board shall submit to the minister a report on the authoritys operations, undertakings and activities during that year.

In addition to the annual report, the board shall submit to the minister such other reports as the minister may require. The minister shall then lay these reports before Parliament at the same time as he lays the authoritys statement of accounts.

In my many years working with Parliament, I have not seen these reports being tabled in the House in line with the provisions of the Act.

It is therefore the responsibility of the Budget Committee to demand submission of the Zimra annual report before Parliament and thoroughly scrutinise it.

And when the committee has completed its probe, we would like to see robust debate in the House when the report is tabled. The committee must strive to follow through implementation of some of its recommendations.

A major weakness in the work of committees is that they have not been doing a very good job in consistently engaging responsible authorities in order to enforce implementation of resolutions.

Most of the committee reports are presented in the House, debated and then gather dust. This is despite the rules of Parliament requiring the minister under whose portfolio the matters raised in the report fall, to provide a comprehensive response within a period specified by the Business of the House Committee.

The Business of the House Committee, which is chaired by the Speaker, is responsible for the organisation of sessions and sittings and the management and conduct of the daily business of the House.

The main problem is that this important committee has not been meeting regularly, thereby contributing to the poor legislative agenda currently prevailing in Parliament.

The failure to respond comprehensively to committee reports cannot entirely be blamed on ministers if the Business of the House Committee is not closely monitoring reports tabled in the House and then write to the responsible minister to respond within a certain period.

Let us hope the probe undertaken by the Budget Committee will result in some form of action being taken to resolve the mess at the countrys border posts. We need efficient collection of revenues in order to boost service delivery to the people.

John Makamure is executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity.

Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com

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