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Friday, 30th September 2016

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) has urged government to consider banning long-haul road freight as it causes congestion at border posts and damages the road network.

Zimra’s Robert Mangwiro, speaking on behalf of acting-commissioner-general Happias Kuzvinzwa, told the newspaper Chronicle that, despite the introduction of one-stop border posts (OSBPs), long queues of haulage trucks were still common.

He added that it would also be critical in boosting the role of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), giving it significant business.

Chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport, Dexter Nduna, agreed. And transport and infrastructural development minister, Joram Gumbo, had already hinted at plans to ban heavy haulage. He said in July that a legal instrument was being created to ban the transport of bulk goods by road to protect the country’s road network and boost NRZ’s operations.

So the overall motivation behind this proposed new restriction would appear to be the same as that already monotonous chant from the SA government – forcing goods from road to rail.

To get a reaction from an authoritative source on this new wonder-tool being devised in Zimbabwe, FTW questioned Mike Fitzmaurice, CEO of the Federation of Eastern and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta).

First, he made it clear that his viewpoints were based on his personal experiences and knowledge of the region – and not necessarily the standpoint of Fesarta. “But, in my opinion, this is nothing more than the utterances of a failing and dysfunctional Government similar to what is currently happening in SA with our current political regime,” he said.

He also pointed out that, in general, when governments in Africa are threatened with losing their grip on power they tend to make bold statements in the wrong directions to take the attention off themselves and what is really their own short comings and failings. Currently, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) transport or move more than 90% of cargo in-and-out of Zimbabwe, and by transit to other landlocked countries in Southern Africa such as Zambia, DRC and Malawi.

“The implications of moving this to rail are just not practical or affordable in Southern Africa as a whole,” said Fitzmaurice. “The cost of upgrading NRZ in isolation would run into billions of US dollars in upgrading the rail network, purchasing new locomotives and sufficient rolling stock to replace the capacity of road transport and of course a project this nature would take a decade or more to become reality. I do not believe any major global powerhouse – not even China – would undertake a foreign direct investment (FDI) of this nature given the current political climate in Zimbabwe.”

And Fitzmaurice rejected the concept of upgrading just Zimbabwe’s rail network in isolation. “Because Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and they are reliant on ports for imports and exports,” he told FTW, “you would have to upgrade the entire regional rail network from origin (ports) to final destination to make this work efficiently. This means not only Zimbabwe but all countries linked to Zimbabwe through which cargo is moved. Therefore, it would have a knock-on effect in the region.”

He then examined the statement that “despite the introduction of one-stop border posts, long queues of haulage trucks are still common”. The only OSBP in Southern Africa and ironically Zimbabwe is at Chirundu on the border with Zambia. And according to Fitzmaurice, it is indeed a “failed OSBP” – with border crossing-times still around the 16-18 hours from Zimbabwe to Zambia and 11-12 hours from Zambia.

But, based on his extensive experience in evaluating the pre and post development of several OSBPs in East Africa since 2011 and Chirundu in 2007 and 2012, he pointed out that it often just takes soft reforms like technology upgrades to improve system cost-efficiency, rather than major infrastructure developments. He took as one example the border post at Malaba – along with Busia the two busiest border posts along the Northern Corridor. “In 2011 queues at Malaba border post were 21 kilometres long (see pic below) and border crossing times where around two to three days and sometimes even longer,” he said.




This resulted in large scale corruption activity involving drivers, transporters and customs officers being uncovered. But, after the heads of state in the East African Community (EAC) – particularly from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda – stamped out the corruption rot, they then concentrated on soft or system reforms.

This eventually evolved into the introduction of a single customs territory (SCT) in 2014 – which allowed goods to move freely under a single document without hindrance at the border posts.

“Customs processing times under the SCT regime dropped to as low as 10 minutes and average crossing-times to under three hours,” said Fitzmaurice.

And, returning to the FTW question about what would the consequences be if Zimbabwe went ahead with such a ban on HGVs he said: “In a nutshell, while it would be a catastrophic disaster for the cross-border transport industry in the short term, it would be manageable in the long term. Unfortunately, an already bankrupt and dysfunctional Zimbabwe would collapse and cease to function within a month.”


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