YESTERDAY, we carried a report under the headline Used car import ban looms.
According to the report, government is working on regulations that would halt the importation of cheap ex-Japanese second-hand vehicles to promote the local automotive industry.
As Industry and Commerce deputy minister Chiratidzo Mabuwa rightly pointed out, Zimbabwe is losing much-needed foreign currency — in fact, the only currency that it is using following dollarisation — in importing second-hand vehicles.
“It [the new motor industry policy] will be out very soon. It would encourage that we have four companies in Zimbabwe that are able to manufacture vehicles and to see whether they can make vehicles that can be (affordable) so that we cannot continue to lose foreign currency,” the deputy minister said.
This looks like clearly and wisely a long-term project especially taking into account Mabuwa’s reference “to manufacture vehicles”, because the country has all along assembled vehicles from imported kits.
There is nothing wrong, but everything right with having such a grand vision when Zimbabwe could be a vehicle manufacturer in its own right.
The country cannot forever import vehicles wholesale. So the deputy minister might have said significant statement policy-wise.
The proposed policy looks, at the surface, well-intentioned and rational. Streets and highways countrywide are now being plied by second-hand vehicles mostly imported into the country by individuals.
Some, if not most, of the vehicles are not suitable for the climate in Zimbabwe and their roadworthiness has also been called into question. Road carnage has increased in the last few years and imported vehicles and sub-standard components have been blamed along with dangerous driving habits.
But it should be conceded that these vehicles are serving a purpose and filling the supply gap because the biggest local assembler of vehicles, Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries (WMMI), just does not have the capacity to satisfy local demand.
Furthermore, their prices are way above affordable levels to most people. That is why previous attempts by the government to increase import duty on second-hand vehicles to deter their importation have failed.
So, unless and until WMMI is duly capacitated to attain economies of scale for the vehicles to be affordable to the average Zimbabwean, a ban should be put on hold and/or eased in gradually, not to ambush people.
Now with this wisdom of hindsight, government should not rush to impose a ban. There needs to be put in place a workable, long-term solution.
After all, the State, with traditional revenue streams drying up, continues to gross hundreds of millions of dollars from duty charged on imported vehicles, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.
As it is, the State needs each legally earned dollar it can lay its hands on to reboot ethical practices among public office holders in these days of rampant corruption.
And a rushed ban could merely spawn a smuggling industry with the State receiving the barest minimum of revenue.
So, let’s not pull the cart before the horse.