SADC Border Chaos

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Wednesday, 20th September 2017

By Nick Porée

Following on the introduction of SI 113 of 2017, Amendment of the Customs and Excise (General) Regulations, SI 154 of 2001, Section 60 by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, there is total chaos at the borders with that country.

The amendment requires that all vehicles are to be fitted with Customs seals, by the authorities. The seals are to be paid for by transporters in US dollars, and unsealed vehicle must be escorted in convoys, as and when organised by the Commissioner; this sometimes causes delays of up to 5 days. At the Forbes-Machipanda border the 10 kms of vehicle queue includes hundreds of fuel tankers and fertilizer carrying vehicles which is a dangerous cocktail waiting for another Kasumbalesa disaster to happen, with vehicles taking 72 hours to cross the border.

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Similar queues and obstructions are being experienced at all borders. The amendment is already causing considerable obstruction with vehicles being delayed for up to 24 hours waiting for seals; removal of existing seals (which are required by consignors to verify load integrity); refusal to endorse documents, when seals are tapered with or removed; even damage to vehicles (drilling holes to fit seals) and further harassment regarding routes and police road blocks.

The costs of the seals and penalties are unacceptable additions to the already high cost of crossing Zimbabwe borders and the increased delays and stoppages experienced on the corridor are significant barriers to efficiency and contribute to reduced safety of vehicles and cargoes.

The Federation has initially addressed this matter by registering a NTB (NTB-000-782) as well engaging with SADC in terms of the Protocol on Transport. Urgent meetings have been arranged in Harare with FESARTA representatives attending to voice their condemnation and to insist on review of the entire process.

This latest obstruction to free trade and transport in the region follows closely on the restriction introduced by Zambian Revenue Authority by arbitrary introduction of increased documentation required at borders in June 2017. This resulted in the chaotic conditions at Chirundu shown below:

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This is SADC’s so called OSBP and supposedly the flagship of OSBP’s in Africa as stated by TMSA prior to their closure in 2013. The level of obstruction at this border post is such that the average GPS tracking data on crossing times as monitored by TLC for the last two years at Chirundu Zambia is consistently around 18 plus hours, mainly due to systems and inefficiencies inherent in all SADC borders.

While in East Africa order and efficiency prevail as seen below at Rusumo OSBP (One Stop Border Post) between Tanzania and Rwanda. This Yard or Customs Control Zone has the capacity for in excess of 200 HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicles) at any one time all parked in this neat and orderly fashion, all Tankers and DGV (Dangerous Goods Vehicles) are separated from other cargo vehicles which park in the front rows and Tankers/DG vehicles in the back rows with easy access to exit routes from the border.sadc_border_chaos_3.jpg

In total contrast to Beitbridge and Chirundu the Malaba border post between Kenya and Uganda, which is now busier than Beitbridge, and probably the busiest in Africa, has traffic volumes of 900 Westbound and 600 Eastbound trucks per day clearing at an average of under 6 hours with the norm being under 30 minutes for Tankers and other SCT cargo. Busia which is comparable to Chirundu in Traffic Volumes for trucks at 450 Westbound and 700 Eastbound clears at an average of under 3 hours and 10-20 minutes for Tankers and other SCT cargo. The efficiencies have been caused by the focused efforts of the RECs and the donor agencies as well the cooperation of the transport industry in ensuring workable designs and systems.

The chaotic conditions are endemic to the SADC corridors with 50 vehicle queues at Martins Drift, near disaster at Ressano Garcia from road closure, (only just alleviated by MCLI) and constant delays at Beit Bridge. The border and corridor management in SADC indicate minimal intention by the Member States to adhere to the principles of the Protocol on Transport and almost total disregard for the effects of the inefficiency. The cost of a 30-ton load (or container), from Durban to DRC is approximately $10,200 made up of 25-30% cross-border taxes and charges; 25-30% by delay costs and approximately 50% for the actual cost of transporting the load.

FESARTA will be seeking opportunity to engage with the international donor agencies which are spearheading the funding of several current and proposed developments as there are indications that these are likely to increase the bureaucratic obstructions and continue to incur costs without addressing the root causes of the inefficiencies. It is essential to change the apparent official perspective in many countries that border posts are the simplest point at which to extract maximum revenue from transport and trade and the issue of cost-efficiency of goods movements is a secondary consideration.

A coordinated analytical, professional and pragmatic appraisal of the entire SADC transport and trade network is required to provide the basis for making the necessary changes, to produce the results that are being achieved in East Africa, and this is urgently needed NOW.

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