GOVERNMENT will raid shops selling unlicensed imported products, as part of sophisticated measures targeting dealers fuelling the demand for contraband, to curtail smuggling and pluck leakages prejudicing Treasury of millions in potential revenue. The measures crafted to contain the widespread smuggling, especially influx of imports, which local industry has capacity to produce, would involve the use of information communication technology gadgets and drones in the surveillance of borders. This comes amid continued influx of imported products, the bulk of which are restricted under Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, which is meant to give local producers latitude to retool, increase production and be able to match the stiff external competition.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority chairperson Willia Bonyongwe recently said that less than 10 percent of trucks entering Zimbabwe were being secured with electronic devices and monitored real time due to high reluctance among Zimra officials to enforce the new security measure.
Yet there is strong belief that smuggling of goods, under the guise of transit cargo for products destined for Zimbabwe, was rife given that entry of trucks classified as transit cargo carriers had dropped by 67 percent since electronic tracking started in May this year.
Government fears proliferation of restricted imports could threaten gains achieved thus far, including growth in capacity utilisation, which rose from an average of 34,3 percent in 2015 to about 47 percent in 2016, riding on the back of import control measures.
Industry and Commerce Minister Mike Bimha said that Government had completed crafting a nifty and multi-pronged strategy, which will look into processes, systems and the human factor aspects aiding the smuggling of goods into or out of Zimbabwe.
“Some of the measures need resources, especially those which entail information communication technology to reduce the human factor and for surveillance and monitoring along the border because our borders are porous. In fact, there were now some points where even trucks could pass through,” Dr Bimha said in an interview.
An innumerable array of imported products are traded constantly by vendors on sidewalks of major streets in Harare in astonishing fashion, likely displacing the majority of local products. The vendors deal in, literally all items found in formal outlets.
Minister Bimha said Government now had a vivid narrative of how the smuggling was occurring through designated ports of entry and exit, as well as via unofficial points along the country’s borders, at times carried out with the aid of customs officials.
Faced with a growing smuggling problem, Government assigned officials who worked openly and undercover to investigate what transpires in the underworld of unscrupulous business practices, which is costing the country millions in potential revenue. The teams of investigators was drawn from an inter-ministerial taskforce made up of officials from the ministries of Home Affairs, Industry and Commerce, Mines and Mining Development, Finance and Economic Development, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the security agents, among others.
“It is an issue of process as well. You find that some of the smuggling happens with assistance of officials at border posts because they now understand how it all works since some of them have been in the system all their working life,” the minister said.
It was common, Minister Bimha said, that when Government comes up with measures that affect certain illegal practices, the perpetrators always find alternative means to circumvent official channels.
“There is need to put parallel (to SI64) and effective measures. (We) need to find other measures to control the smuggling,” he said.
SI 64 is paying dividends, especially if considered in the context that official imports for the half year to June 2017 amounted to $2,5 billion, a decline of 18 percent from $3 billion in the same period last year and this was largely attributable to various control measures that Government has implemented since last year.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Sifelani Jabangwe told CZI’s annual congress in Victoria Falls that “the introduction of various import management measures had brought benefits that include increase in capacity utilisation, retooling, increase in foreign investment, increased employment, increase in revenue, reduction of the trade deficit and stronger value chains.”
Dr Bimha, however, noted that local industry also needed to step up to the plate by improving competitiveness to achieve lower prices and also produce quality that matches global standards, which would kill the motivation to smuggle imported products.