The little monkeys we should deal with

Howdy folks! Who remembers 2006 when some folks made fun of Agriculture Minister Dr Joseph Made after he told Parliament that a monkey, one little monkey, had apparently sabotaged the agriculture season?

“How can a mere monkey possibly do that?” some folks queried?

But many did not pay attention to what the monkey had actually done, how it caused huge damage to one of the only two transformers at Sable Chemicals which produces fertiliser that is critical to agriculture productivity. Said Dr Made then, “Our investigations have shown that a monkey caused damage to a transformer, thereby sabotaging our preparations for the coming season. If it was not for that monkey, the situation was not going to be as bad.”

The transformer needed half a year to be fixed, by which time the cropping season would already have passed.

The above scenario is almost akin to the recent Beitbridge incident which left some folks supposedly remarking, “It’s just one camera, haiwa kamera imwe haiwodzi nyama.” But there is certainly more to show than what can perhaps be captured by the lenses of the camera here.

The incident, to those who might not be familiar with it, one of the many security cameras at the border post was stolen when a powercut hit the area. Folks, come to think of it, why would someone steal a surveillance camera at the border?

Is it because they want to sell it or use it?

Or igondo rapotsa nhiyo rikakura camera?

And why was that particular camera stolen, I mean the one which left one of the key areas used to smuggle goods into the country unmonitored? Was it by coincidence? Let’s put that one camera into economic perspective. Folks, recently, Government gave an update on one of the major challenges that have been red-flagged by the private sector since time immemorial — our very porous borders!

We are told that an inter-ministerial taskforce that was established to probe issues around the influx of imports has recommended the installation of hi-tech gadgets at ports of entry and surveillance around border posts. Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Mike Bimha said “once resources are available”, Government will acquire ICT gadgets to alleviate the problem.

What should be noted is that without simultaneously putting in place all supportive measures to buttress existing policies aimed at fostering industrialisation, we will be hoping against hope.

It is not different from saying that we can only start protecting local companies from imports once these gadgets are in place. This idea of piecemeal policing will continue to weigh down prospects of accelerating economic revival. The fact that an avalanche of foreign products continues to Nicodemously descend on our local markets, despite having attracted high tariffs or restrictions, means that our ports of entry are still porous and that protection will not achieve its intended objectives.

It also means that some are using illegal entry points to transport unknown quantities of goods into the country.

If one only looks at the official statistics on the importation of products that have been restricted, they get the impression that the implemented policies are effective.

But when you reconcile that with the volumes of those restricted goods on ground, you will realise that smuggling and corruption at the border are still rampant.

Smuggling is part of the reasons why we are having these cash problems. While our official import statistics already show that we are importing too much of just about everything, I am sure we will we be more shocked if we were to add unofficial imports. We are suffering too much cash haemorrhage through these illegal imports, some of which are probably being paid for using illicit money, which is another problem. No industrial policy can succeed in such a scenario. The strategies of these policies are made by reviewing official data which might be misleading. You see, official data might say product A is the one that is mostly affected by imports, when it is actually product B. Policies such as SI64 of 2016 should, therefore, be accompanied by necessary supportive measures that ensure local industries are effectively insulated from competition from imports. That is how we can then expect industrialisation and competitiveness to take place. Even Bureau Veritas which was put in place to monitor product quality will not achieve much if some ghost goods are being smuggled by hook or crook, even if it means unashamedly tampering with cameras, which is clearly economic sabotage.

Until when shall these “little monkeys” be allowed to selfishly line their pockets at the expense of the living standards of ordinary folks? When goods are being smuggled, it also means that they are evading tax, thereby prejudicing the taxman of the much-needed revenue to finance the National Budget.

Part of the reasons why we have budget deficits, compelling Government to borrow from the future, is because our revenue collections are not growing and are remaining almost flat. The cigarette sector can be used as an example to prove that smuggling is real. In the cigarettes market, there is a growth in non-duty paying cigarettes.

You find some imported cigarettes being sold at US$0.50 for a 20-pack box.

But there is excise duty of US$20 per 1 000 sticks of cigarettes. That sin tax translates to a cost of US$0,40 per pack of 20 cigarettes. If you subtract that US$0.40 tax from the selling price of US$0.50, you remain with just US$0.10 which has supposedly been used to meet all the production costs wobva watoisa zve nemark-up ipapo! Ah kunyepa chaiko. This clearly demonstrates non-duty payment! And it points to smuggling! But we continue to act like there is no trouble in paradise. Government should, therefore, expedite measures aimed at fostering effective monitoring of not only our official ports of entry, but other informal entry points that can be used to smuggle goods into the country.

But coming again to that Beitbridge camera issue, one might imply that this was deliberately done to prevent authorities from noticing what was being illegally smuggled into the country. And we don’t know the damage it will have to our economy. That one vandalised camera, just like that one little monkey, might sabotage our economy in cohort with other forms of unofficially bringing finished goods into the country to unfairly compete with locally-produced ones. Happy Easter folks; He is risen indeed! Please be good on the roads, do not get drunk or high and drive, ride, cycle or walk!

Later folks!

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