BY REX MPHISA
THE Beitbridge Border Post faces a host of administrative problems centred around archaic infrastructure which has rendered the facility insecure and vulnerable to security breaches particularly this festive season, a parliamentary committee was recently told.
Two years ago, government awarded Zimborders a tender to upgrade the Beitbridge Border Post where President Emmerson Mnangagwa officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony, but work has since been abandoned.
Assistant regional immigration officer-in-charge Nqobile Ncube said other problems emanated from administrative glitches caused by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra)’s “big brother” approach, government’s abandonment of the Port Authority Agency, lack of resources and general accommodation problems which have seen 36 families sharing flats meant for just a third of that figure.
“The redevelopment of Beitbridge has brought more problems than solutions. They pulled down our wrought iron fence and erected a weak fence that can easily be vandalised,” Ncube told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Immigration and Security during a recent tour of the border post.
“The work that was expected to be completed in two-and-half years has six months of its contract left, but only unfinished preliminary work is on the ground. We cannot see them finishing in six months.”
The committee’s acting chairperson Callisto Gwanetsa described Ncube’s report as “incisive and shocking”.
“We also admit we have been coming here, but had never approached you to hear of these shocking developments,” Gwanetsa said.
Ncube said on infrastructural challenges, access control personnel had to bear the brunt of all-weather elements at the gates because of poor infrastructure.
“The border redevelopment, through Zimborders seems to be battling to take off as there is still talk of financial closure 10 months after the last date of works commencement.
“There is a very urgent need to push for the border redevelopment project to take off and be completed as major developments, including the one-stop-border post project, hinge on this,” Ncube said, adding that the porous border post continued to pose a challenge.
“The 225km frontier has too many breach points and only a good rainy season holds off illicit movement for a long period. (Police and army) forward bases and communities along the frontier line are fuelling cross-border illicit activities,” he said.
Ncube also revealed that the immigration online system had long collapsed resulting in manual clearance of travellers although there was need to adopt technological tools for reconnaissance and patrol of the frontier to curb illicit activities.
“The Afrosoft-backed system has been down since December last year and this puts the department, security and basically the whole nation at risk as all entries and migrant management has to be done from a manual perspective despite the high volume movement at this port,” Ncube said.
“I would like to request the committee to lobby for Cabinet or even a presidential oversight into this matter such that by the festive season this year, we trial-run an effective and robust operational system that ideally would be real time, carry on board the Interpol module like DHA and Botswana Immigration Service, be able to carry on board the neo-facial recognition module being currently piloted, among other modules,” he said.
Ncube appealed to the committee to push for the Ports Authority Bill to be enacted as this will align services and result in a fair utilisation of resources across the board.
“The current set up where Zimra, who are also a stakeholder at the border, are given the maintenance and repair budget for the whole complex is untenable as obviously most of the expenditure will lean towards the interests of Zimra at the expense of other departments and in the absence of the arbitrator role of the port authority this creates a big brother element in the purse holder and relegates other departments to minions who have no administrative say in the management and development of infrastructure and services. This, in my view, needs to be dealt with,” he said.
He said like every government department at Beitbridge, his department faced an acute shortage of accommodation, resulting in members sharing accommodation.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee members came face-to-face with uniformed police and soldiers helping illicit immigrants and illegal cross-border shoppers to cross.