Zimbabwe Government committed to African Continental Free Trade Agreement Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona

Razemba Senior Reporter 

GOVERNMENT is fully committed to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and the refurbishment and modernisation of the Beitbridge Border Post and the rehabilitation of the Beitbridge- Chirundu highway to ensure seamless movement of goods and people along the North-South corridor.

Stanbic Bank and its parent company, Standard Bank Group, recently unveiled a US$21,6 million loan facility for sprucing up of the Beitbridge Border Post and its environs.

The loan facility was availed to a concession holding company, Zimborders Mauritius (Zimborders), towards the rehabilitation and modernisation of Zimbabwe’s side of the Beitbridge Border Post as well as the development of associated infrastructure in and around the town. Work on the rehabilitation of the Border Post started in earnest early this year and is progressing steadily.

Over the weekend, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona gave an update on Beitbridge Border Post congestion challenges and measures instituted to address them.

“It is important to note that Zimbabwe is fully committed to the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement hence the refurbishment and modernisation of the Beitbridge Border Post and the rehabilitation of the Beitbridge- Chirundu highway.

“This will ensure seamless movement of goods and people along the North-South corridor. We urge all transporters to cooperate with boarder authorities and familiarise themselves with the required pre-clearance processes,” he said.

He said the new Beitbridge Border Post Freight Terminal (BBPFT) was opened to the public on October 11, 2021.

“The BBPFT, which is an integral component of the project to refurbish and upgrade Beitbridge Border Post was born out of a concessionary agreement between the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development and Zimborders on a Build Operate and Transfer arrangement.

“The project is meant to improve border management systems. We have noted with concern that like any new project, migration from old systems to new ways of doing things usually comes with challenges. The challenges of congestion which were witnessed when the new BBPFT was opened have been a cause of concern as it hinders trade facilitation and movement of goods and people along the North-South corridor,” Minister Mhona said.

He said the challenges are regrettable and Government was working flat out with its stakeholders to remedy the situation with the view to improve the situation at Beitbridge.Minister Mhona said as Government was implementing measures to sustainably stem all the challenges at the border, our valued stakeholders must be pleased that the situation is normalising.

He said congestion at the Beitbridge Border Post started a few weeks before the opening of the new freight terminal as a result of Covid-19 related relaxations on movement both on the Zimbabwean and South African sides of the border.

“The congestion started to build up steadily over the days with queues on both growing over and creating a gridlock. This status quo was compounded by the fact that when Zimborders was preparing to go live on Monday, the 11th of October 2021, the trucks were allowed in the border yard on Sunday during the dry run, to give them an opportunity to pass before the toll fees were applied as well as to alleviate the congestion that was worsening.

“The trucks piled up in the freight parking and by the time the freight terminal went live on Monday; the yard was packed and Zimborders had to kickstart operations dealing with an already congested border.

“As if that was not enough, the border was opened for non-commercial traffic on the other side which had been closed due to covid-19 restrictions which compounded the situation. In view of the foregoing, the shift from the old to new system of cargo clearance and of cause non-compliance by actors involved in clearance taking advantage of the new system have largely been the causes of the congestion at Beitbridge,” the minister said.

As part of measures put in place to remedy the situation, Minister Mhona said, enormous efforts have been made by various border stakeholders including Zimborders, Immigration and ZIMRA, to clear the queues.

“In response to the congestion, a Crisis Management Committee (CMC) made up of representatives from the border stakeholders was set up. The CMC conducted surveys to find out the root cause of the delay in traffic movement.

“Results from the survey exposed that more than 60% of the drivers had inadequate documentation required for clearance which delayed them leading to further congestion. We therefore urge truckers to ensure that they mobilise all necessary documents before approaching the boarder to avoid delays.

“To date, the Crisis Management Committee has put in place measures to address the situation. The movement of trucks during the day has reached a fairly acceptable rate and clearing agents and runners have been engaged to work night shifts so as to improve the traffic flow in the night,” he said.

He said Zimborders has also engaged their ICT service providers who have ensured that all payment platforms including credit cards, Ecocash, transfers, swipe, prepayments and cash are up and running.

Minister Mhona said further, Zimra and South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) have collaborated and put in place measures that will enable Zimra to vet documentation for clearance when the trucks are still on the SA side of the border.

Non-compliant trucks will not be allowed to proceed to join the queue as they will be kept in truck stops in SA side until they are compliant thereby avoiding congestion over the bridge.

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