The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs has heard how foreign haulage truck operators are working to isolate Zimbabwe due to too many roadblocks.
The Kindness Paradza-led committee, which toured Beitbridge border post on Friday, also heard how cross-border shoppers were allegedly subjected to extortion at the hands of police, security agents and customs and excise officials on roads leading to the country’s busiest port of entry.
“We are asked to contribute money to give these officials so that we are not delayed. We pay money that is never receipted,” a woman sitting at the bus search bay told the committee which was accompanied by senior government workers at Beitbridge.
These monetary demands were made despite travellers having complied with all formalities at the border post.
The committee interviewed women cross-border shoppers who singled out customs officers in Masvingo as the most problematic and cash-hungry.
“We pay them and the police. Police sometimes usurp the role of ZIMRA officials. They are corrupt,” said another of the many women interviewed.
Haulage truck drivers said thousands of hauliers were now avoiding Zimbabwe owing to numerous roadblocks and unending demands for cash by police.
“People love this route but are forced to go via Botswana to avoid numerous police roadblocks in Zimbabwe,” a truck driver told the committee which toured the border post on Friday.
In 2016, Beitbridge handled 76 839 northbound vehicles of which 80% were in transit – a figure likely to be reduced this year.
“Truck owners have agreed to avoid Zimbabwe and this will mean reduced revenue in toll fees, road access, transit fees and numerous other charges that will be lost to police roadblocks,” a truck driver said in an interview later.
The committee also heard of how the country was losing millions of dollars to smugglers following a ban on certain goods deemed available in Zimbabwe.
The smugglers simply walk with their goods across the dry riverbed of the Limpopo where even haulage trucks drive through.
ZIMRA regional manager Batsirai Chadzingwa said they had no capacity to arrest smuggling, which has spread like a wildfire.
Importers have devised new ways of smuggling and strip beds into pieces before reassembling them in Zimbabwe.
Parliamentarians were also taken to the South Africa side of Beitbridge where immigration and customs officials showed them around.
Despite being just a kilometre apart, the two border posts are different worlds altogether, with the Zimbabwe one just a dusty unkempt stretch of land with haphazardly parked cars while the South African one is a neatly surfaced settlement where order prevails.
Chadzingwa spoke about the unhygienic conditions border officials worked under.
The committee, which has been to Chirundu and Forbes border posts, left for Plumtree and like its predecessors, promised to report to parliament for speedy change.
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