Thupeyo Muleya, Analysis
IN the last decade congestion, chaos, delays, and corruption had become synonymous with operations at Beitbridge Border Post which connects Zimbabwe and South Africa and the rest of Sadc countries north of the Zambezi River.
The governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa tried a number of strategies to reign in the situation which had become a major trade barrier within Sadc and the AU’s south-south corridor.
Many solutions were mooted including the upgrading of the infrastructure, and the introduction of border management authorities to cater for efficient systems and ultimately improve the ease of doing business.
As the chaos heightened at this port of entry many travellers and transporters started avoiding Beitbridge, opting to use air transport or transiting via Botswana or Mozambique.
Resultantly, Zimbabwe started losing revenue in user fees for those transporters transiting through its borders to Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, Malawi, and the DRC.
In 2018, the New Dispensation led by President Mnangagwa undertook to transform the Beitbridge Border Post at a cost of US$300 million in partnership with the Zimborders Consortium.
Prior to this, the story of Beitbridge’s transformation had become that of many intentions without action.
The border transformation which is being done in three phases is expected to wind up in April next year.
The project is being implemented under a 17 and half-year concession between the Government and the Zimborders Consortium.
Under the concession, the consortium is providing funding, and the Government offers land and technical services.
In addition, Zimborders will manage the port of entry and maintain it for the duration of the concession and retain its invested money from border use fees.
Upon completion, the transformation of the Beitbridge Border Post will not only address efficiency and security issues but also speed up the implementation of the One-Stop Border Post (OSBP) concept between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
This concept has since 2006 failed to take off due to a number of challenges, among them bureaucratic bottlenecks from the two countries.
Under the OSPB the two countries sharing a border harmonise their operations to simplify the way of business and travellers are cleared once for passage into either country.
According to the Zimborders Consortium chief executive officer, Mr Francois Diedrechsen, the project had been divided into three phases to ensure that civil works were carried out without disrupting the operations at the port of entry.
These include a freight terminal, roads, and upgrading of ICT facilities (Phase 1), buses terminal (Phase 2), and the light vehicles terminal and out of port works (Phase 3)
So far, the first and second phases have been completed and opened to traffic.
Construction works on Phase 3, which is the light vehicles terminal, will start this month and be completed at the end of November this year.
The consortium is also making a lot of progress in terms of out-of-port civil works.
These include a new fire station, an animal quarantine, sewer oxidation dam, a landfill, roads upgrading, construction of 220 staff houses, and 11,4 mega-liters water works.
They are all under construction.
It is envisaged that upon the completion of civil works, the border post will carry fivefold its current estimated capacity of 600 000 travellers, 30 000 commercial trucks, 15 000 buses, and 120 000 light vehicles monthly.
It is also understood that the lack of an authority or border efficiency management committee on the part of Zimbabwe has been the greatest undoing of the Government’s efforts to improve the ease of doing business.
However, as the project gradually winds up, it is important for the Government to seriously introspect on the issue that led to the chaos before and take corrective measures.
If some of the issues are not addressed, the border may turn into a white elephant or the state of affairs will remain that of putting new gloves on old hands.
It is critical for the Government to train the border workers on the new thrust of doing business and eradicate the mercenary attitude among most of its workers.
In fact, there is a need for a serious reformation of the mindset of the border workers to match the millions invested by the Government and its partners in transforming the border.
A border agency should be compatible with the new thrust.
More training sessions should be carried out.
The issue of mushrooming agents on the border, which previously saw the border operating with more than eight security checkpoints should be a thing of the past.
It’s high time Zimbabwe goes hi-tech on port security and minimises the human interface between ordinary travellers and tourists, who, at times, are harassed by rent-seeking characters.
Considering that most of the services are being automated, the single window platform should be activated to ensure that immigration, customs, and security systems are synchronised.
The payment of border user fees, duties, and related charges should be centralised to avoid a situation where travellers hop from office to office to make payments.
That is frustrating and time-consuming.
At the moment, importers and travellers pay for bridge toll fees, border user fees, duties, permits fees at the various departments within the border.
This role can be done by one player to cut the processing times on the condition, that player may remit money to the various departments.
In addition, compliance checks must be reviewed to cut human interface which breeds corruption. The automation system should be strong enough to process all the checks seamlessly like what happens at airports.
As it stands, there is a lot of undeclared animosity among border agencies over which role should the other play in the control of the movement of goods and people.
The Government is encouraged to operationalise the proposed National Ports Authority (NPA) to improve service delivery and efficiency and to streamline the number of agencies at the border, just like what the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe is doing at the airports.
It has become apparent that the NPA is the missing link to any the envisaged Government policy in the ease of doing business.
In essence, any investment without accountability and coordination of stakeholders at the border will be a waste of time and resources.
The Government and the Zimborders Consortium are advised to consider crafting modest border access toll fees to ensure they collect enough to maintain the infrastructure at the same time ensuring there is more traffic accessing the border.
There is an outcry over the new toll fees that are being charged to motorists passing through the border terminals.
Commercial trucks are paying US$200, buses US$80, light delivery vehicles US$80, US$40 for minibusses, and US$27 for light vehicles for a one-way trip, in addition to the varied New Limpopo Toll Fees.
The national joint operations command should also rein in some of its members and descend hard on crooked characters and the wheeler-dealers who frequent the port of entry, to dupe people or cause unnecessary delays.
The Government cannot continue to fold its hands while some dubious characters work hard to undo what the Second Republic is doing as the country inches towards attaining an upper middle income economy by 2030.
– Feedback. [email protected]