Thupeyo Muleya Features Writer
Corruption within the law enforcement agents and customs officials at Zimbabwe’s border post with South Africa is fast wiping off the achievements this country has registered, such as high literacy levels and the commitment to duty that its workforce is generally renowned for. The smuggling of minerals, cigarettes and explosives into South Africa through the Beitbridge border post has become rampant. This, however, happens under the nose of able law enforcement agents and customs officials.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has two mobile scanners which are used for detecting contrabands from goods or cargo that is being exported to South Africa and two scanners on the import side.
Zimra also has an anti-smuggling team and the specialised dogs section dedicated to deal with intrusive leakages at the border post.
There is a high presence of police officers on both sides of the border (exit and entry).
Zimbabwe recently received hi-tech scanners worth US$105million from China in a move set to curb smuggling.
The mobile scanners have a potential to scan 20 vehicles per hour.
According to Zimra, the scanners verify cargo with its density in relation to the customs declarations made by the importer or exporter.
For instance a person can declare that they are exporting liquid but the scanners can detect if there is anything other than liquid in the consignment.
Despite having all these resources the police and customs officers have failed to detect these intrusive leakages.
On average, SA intercepts three or four people trying to smuggle minerals, explosives and cigarettes through Beitbridge Border post per week.
The criminals will be using haulage trucks or private vehicles.
These are arrested after being detected by the South African Revenue Services’ (SARS) dog unit.
In most cases the smugglers claim to have paid either Zimra or police officers to facilitate a smooth passage into the country southern neighbour.
Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the smuggling of explosives, minerals and cigarettes was a cause for concern at Beitbridge Border Post.
Brig Mulaudzi said police had intensified patrols and searches on travellers in light of an increase in cases of smuggling.
“We are worried about the recurrence of such cases where people try to smuggle these explosives into the republic. We suspect these are used for illegal mining activities and ATM bombings,” he said.
They are more than 15 roadblocks between Harare and Beitbridge border post where most of the minerals and cigarettes come from.
There are approximately 10 roadblocks between Bulawayo and Beitbridge border where most detonators and explosives come from.
The trading of export quality cigarettes, explosives and minerals is controlled in Zimbabwe and still remains a mystery why the police are failing to intercept them before they get to the border post at the many roadblocks on the highways leading to the border post.
The then Zimra’s regional manager for Beitbridge border post, Mr. Adrian Swarres told students from the National Defence College during a tour of the facility last year that smuggling was rampant along the Limpopo River.
He said that on the export side cigarettes were the main product that was being smuggled while banned food stuffs which are genetically modified especially chickens and potatoes formed the bulk of items that were being smuggled on the imports side.
Mr Swarres said they had periodic meetings with security agents from both Zimbabwe and South Africa exchanging notes on how best they could reduce smuggling.
The smuggling of cigarettes has been on the increase especially to countries that are outside Southern African Customs Union (SACU) because of high excise duty as compared to the union members which are; Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
Reports also indicate that these cigarettes are repackaged in South Africa before being exported to Asia and other European countries.
According to a report by SARS in 2013, Zimbabwe contributed 70 percent of the cigarettes smuggled into that country through Beitbridge border post alone.
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said they intensified patrols along the Beitbridge Border with a view to curbing the smuggling of goods into and outside Zimbabwe.
“These patrols include joint operations with our South African counterparts. Since January 2014, the Zimbabwe Republic Police has arrested 62 Zimbabweans and foreign nationals who were trying to smuggle goods into and outside the country’s borders.
“A total of 6 869 cartons of cigarettes valued at US$686 980 were recovered in the process,” she said.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said the police were encouraging people to follow laws governing the sell, importation and exportation of cigarettes within and outside Zimbabwe.
“As police, we encourage individuals and companies to follow these procedures and engage the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for assistance. We will not hesitate to arrest anyone who tries to evade the country’s system by smuggling goods outside our borders,” she said.
She said in the case of explosives members of the public should approach the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development on the modalities of handling and exporting explosives.
She added that the movement of goods within Zimbabwe is not an offence though there were some people who were burnt on breaking the law.
“We also have situations where smugglers have passed through police, Zimra and Immigration checkpoints which include roadblocks; however, this is by chance as most culprits have been arrested at these points.
“Please take note that it is not possible for the Zimbabwe Republic Police to search each and every vehicle which passes through a roadblock lest the public will raise concerns.
“Our officers are required to use their discretion so as not to create traffic congestion on the road,” she added.
She said the force had adopted a zero tolerance stance on corruption.
She said swift and decisive disciplinary action has been taken on police officers who have engaged in any form of corruption.
She added that some of the cases were still pending before the courts.
“We have also arrested members of the public who have tried to connive with bad elements within our system to perpetuate corrupt acts.
“We have regularly conducted lifestyle audits on all our Police details and this is an ongoing exercise. Routine transfers have always been conducted in the Zimbabwe Republic Police in line with our human resources Policy
“However, it is disturbing to note that some journalists have been querying our recent transfers yet they cry foul if such transfers are not affected,” said Senior Ass Comm Charamba.
She said anyone with information on corrupt activities by members of the police force, Zimra, Immigration Officers and the public should report to the Police Command so that swift action can be taken.
“The public should utilize our National Complaints Desk telephone number (04)-703631 to report any corrupt incident,” she said.