The Sunday Mail
COURIER service provider DHL Zimbabwe has been sucked into a scandal in which the company is being accused of fleecing scores of unsuspecting Zimbabweans of substantial sums of money by charging unjustified clearance fees for parcels that would have already been paid for by the sender.
The scandal, which has seen some of those affected contemplate class action, came to light after a growing number of clients faced the risk of parting with their hard-earned money or losing much-needed goods and documents to DHL.
The company withholds the parcels until the shady clearance fees have been paid.
Infuriated clients have raised questions over how DHL arrived at the US$50 fixed charge for goods valued at less than US$50 and US$125 for goods worth more than US$50.
These charges do not apply to recipients in other countries such as South Africa, Nigeria and the United Kingdom, a situation that has sparked an outcry among Zimbabweans who believe the clearance fees are unjustified and meant to stir huge profits for DHL – which has outlets in 220 countries, 285 000 employees and a revenue of over 55 billion euros as of 2013.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail revealed that the clearance fees, in some cases, were higher than the purchase and shipping costs of some of the parcels. This has resulted in some clients being agitated to the point of protesting and dumping parcels in the hands of DHL.
The company has scooped several gold and silver awards but the latest shocking revelations have tainted the logistics firm which was at pains to justify the fees last week.
A Zimbabwean author, who refused to be named, was shocked when she visited the DHL offices in Harare to collect
a book which had been sent from the United Kingdom as a gift.
Her excitement died down as company officials refused to release the parcel until the author paid the controversial US$50.
Interestingly, the book was bought in the UK for only US$8 — which is far less than the clearance fees.
The author then questioned the justification for the US$50 clearance fee but was not given a satisfactory explanation. Frustrated, she told the officials to keep the book.
The case is not isolated. There are several other Zimbabweans who have lost items because they could not pay the fees which DHL has failed to explain in clear terms.
Mr James Sithole of Harare, who was once affected, complained that he received a pair of shoes from South Africa which was bought for less than US$40. He was, however, forced to pay the US$50, which effectively pushed the cost of his shoes at US$90.
“The clearance fees must be scrapped because what DHL is doing is tantamount to fleecing poor Zimbabweans.
“Why pay for a parcel which would have been paid for by the sender? It doesn’t make sense. Just like many others, I was really annoyed and surprised that I couldn’t collect my parcel until I paid the fees,” complained Mr Sithole.
Contacted for comment from his Germany base, DHL Express spokesman Mr Daniel McGrath defended his company saying: “Per national customs regulations, all dutiable (i.e. non-document) shipments imported to Zimbabwe have to be customs cleared, regardless of their value.
“This process entails a number of activities, including processing and submitting documents, carrying out physical inspections when requested by customs, etc, for which customs brokers in Zimbabwe apply standard charges.
“In the case of DHL, we apply a fixed charge of US$50 for all dutiable shipments with a value less than US$50 (and from US$125 if the value is over US$50). The rates we charge for customs clearance services are highly competitive in the market.
“The sender of a DHL shipment pays for the transportation, not including the customs clearance fees and duties which apply in Zimbabwe. We do not offer the option of paying at origin for customs clearance in Zimbabwe.
“It is normal practice in many countries for a recipient to pay for formal customs clearance procedures (although the charges vary based on local market conditions and costs).”
DHL Zimbabwe country manager Mr Stalin Tauya said the charges covered the excruciating and rigorous processes involved in the clearance of goods at Zimra offices.
However, he failed to explain what the US$50 actually covered. According to DHL terms and conditions it can only levy for additional costs incurred. It was not clear what how clear a book costs the company US$50.
A clearing agent who preferred anonymity told The Sunday Mail that they usually agree with the sender and recipient of the goods on the handling and transfer fees prior to shipping the parcels.
Even the National Handling Services (NHS) does not charge clearance fees, but only levies duty and storage charges if goods are not collected within 24 hours.