GOVERNMENT has set up a ministerial crack-unit to be headed by Home Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo to combat smuggling at border posts, amid revelations that the country could be losing about 50 percent in potential revenue through underhand activities at the ports of entry.
Workers at the country’s border posts could soon be subjected to polygraph tests, commonly referred to as lie detector tests as Government moves in to combat the illegal activities.
Other members of this crack team include the Ministers of Finance and Economic Development, Mines and Mining Development, Environment Water and Climate, Industry and Commerce and Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.
Information from the Ministry of Home Affairs shows that there is growing involvement of border post employees in the smuggling rackets.
As a result of rampant smuggling the country is losing potential income that could be worth billions of dollars annually, leading to challenges being faced by Government to garner enough revenue to meet its obligations such as payment of civil servants salaries.
Eyebrows have been raised as to how earnings continue to dwindle, even though there is increased activity in terms of imported goods, which are supposed to boost revenue inflows through import duty. The flooding of imports has also affected some sectors of the economy where local producers are elbowed out of competition owing to the growing influx of cheap commodities.
In an interview, Home Affairs Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo said Government was putting in place new measures to tackle smuggling.
“We have realised that smuggling has now reached alarming levels. Preliminary indications show that we are getting only 50 percent of the revenue from what we are supposed to be getting from the borders. So we can say, if we are getting US$2 billion from the border in a year, we are also losing another US$2 billion due to illegal activities at the borders.”
Dr Chombo said the new ministerial unit, which will operate as a “special force” has to date received US$4 million as well as other resources to tackle the vice.
The resources acquired by the unit will be channelled towards buying new equipment to fight the smuggling syndicates.
“We are going out in full force to increase surveillance at the borders. We have US$4 million that we have been given and we are working on it together with Minister (Mike) Bimha, myself, Minister (Oppah) Muchinguri, Minister (Walter) Chidhakwa and Minister (Patrick) Chinamasa because their portfolios are affected by this loss of revenue,” said Dr Chombo.
“With the measures that we have put in place, by mid-year, we think we can be able to compare statistics and see how much we are getting. The idea that we have is that out of the 50 percent of revenue that we are losing, we are going to retain up to 30 or so percent through these measures, so that we get revenue for our civil servants.
“What we are trying to do is to get to the source of the problem so that when we do interventions, we will do that at the right level. The strategies we are working on will also focus on prevention of these crimes rather than acting on a crime that has been committed already.”
He hinted that the Government would soon introduce the polygraph tests that will see workers at the border being subjected to lie detector tests. The use of lie detector tests is common in other countries in solving criminal cases. The purpose of a polygraph test is to determine if a person is telling the truth or lying when answering certain questions.
When a person takes a polygraph test, sensors are attached to the body through the machine and its accuracy can be as high as 99 percent, although some schools of thought say that the machine can be cheated.
According to Dr Chombo some of the measures undertaken by the crack unit include acquiring a new set of vehicles to increase patrol at borders.
Some members of the team have also been dispatched to South Africa as part of gathering information on smuggling.
CCTVs have also been installed in strategic places at the border to increase surveillance. Police have been ordered to clear touts who create unnecessary confusion and congest the borders.
Information collated by the Ministry of Home Affairs to date shows that smuggling is mainly rampant through under-receipting, as officials at the border broker deals with the smugglers. Another anomaly has also been recorded in vehicle imports, where the huge volumes of car imports are not corresponding to the revenue collected. The Ministry of Home Affairs also has evidence that haulage trucks are being used to smuggle various goods such as cellphones into the country. Buses have also become conduits of smuggling at borders for products, especially of household goods. Other products being smuggled include fuel, where large amounts of petrol and diesel pass through the border on the pretext that they are in transit to Zambia or Democratic Republic of Congo, but only to be off-loaded in Zimbabwe.
In the agriculture sector, the smugglers abuse import licences provided by Government by importing more than the prescribed amounts. Some of the products include imported chickens, as well as other banned and restricted GMOs.
Said Dr Chombo: “We have heard some fuel tanks that pass through the border indicate the fuel is headed for a destination such as DRC, but they then off load the contents at various locations in Zimbabwe.
“Some of the smugglers are in the habit of getting importers’ licence, which grant them authority to import certain quantities, but they then abuse these licences and import more than what they would have been granted. They do this in cahoots with officials at the borders.”
In an interview with The Sunday Mail last week, National Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the police was yet to compile statistics for smuggling in 2015.
“The statistics for smuggling in 2015 are still to be compiled, but they will be made available. What I can say at the moment is that we are increasing patrols to deal with smuggling in those areas where this crime is common,” she said.
At the end of last week, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) was yet to respond to questions sent by The Sunday Mail, with Chief Corporate Communications Officer Mr Taungana Ndoro saying he was out of office.
ZIMRA has an anti-smuggling unit and there is heavy police presence at all the country’s borders but despite all this, illegal activities still take place at the borders.
Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Cde Obedinga Mguni was left incensed over lax security during his recent visit to Beitbridge Border Post, The Sunday Mail has gathered. Yesterday, Cde Mguni confirmed to The Sunday Mail of “an incident” that took place during his tour of the border.
He, however, did not disclose full details of what transpired, saying it was a “sensitive security issue” which he has since forwarded to the Joint Operations Command. This paper, however, understands that Deputy Minister clashed with officials at the border after expressing his concerns over lax security.
“The visit by the Deputy Minister opened a can of worms because he was concerned by lack of security at the border and he disagreed with some of the officials on how they were conducting operations,” said a source.
“The officials also appeared to be attempting to block him from accessing some information and he was not amused.”
Deputy Minister Mguni visited the border two weeks ago to get an appreciation of the security situation and an appraisal of operations at the port of entry, which is one of the busiest in the region.
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