DRC – Tale of woe as Customs System brings Trade to a Halt!

Kasumbalesa1Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) border post with Zambia, one of Africa’s busiest land frontiers, went high-tech, with a web-based customs system that was meant to improve efficiency and eradicate corruption. It’s not quite working to plan. As officials struggle to get to grips with the new system and DRC’s decrepit phone network groans under the weight of data, the Kasumbalesa border post 300 km (200 miles) north of Lusaka has almost ground to a halt, according to drivers and freight operators. The result is a tailback of trucks stretching at least 20 km into Zambia and a spike in prices in Lubumbashi, impoverished DRC’s second city, which has lost its one proper road link to the outside. The bottleneck is bad even by African standards but it throws into stark relief the problems governments face as they try to remove the numerous bureaucratic and physical barriers to intra-regional trade across the poorest continent.

The Kasumbalesa blockage is being felt 100 km away in Lubumbashi, a bustling mining city of several million who rely on the 450 trucks a day that normally pass through the border laden with everything from biscuits to cement to paraffin. Shop owners are stockpiling and prices of staples such as casava powder – known locally as fufu – have gone up 50 percent in three weeks. “This has already had a big effect. It is causing lots of problems for the population,” Lubumbashi resident Charles Pitchou said.

Kasumbalesa – at the heart of the relatively prosperous and developed Copperbelt – was meant to be an example of how to do it properly, a frontier handed over to a private firm to make customs run like clockwork.

In one of the first public-private partnerships on African borders, an Israeli-run firm called Baran Trade and Investments won a 20-year concession in 2009 to build a “one-stop” customs post and operate it for 20 years. (Makes one wonder why the countries have a Customs authority in the first place?) With $5 million of Baran’s own money and a $20 million loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Zambia Border Crossing Company (ZBCC), as the subsidiary was known, had a streamlined Kasumbalesa up and running in 2011. Local media reports suggested much-reduced crossing times. However, Lusaka canceled ZBCC’s contract in late 2011 when President Rupiah Banda lost an election and his successor, Michael Sata, ordered investigations into a slew of state deals struck by his predecessor. TheBaran deal never went out to public tender and the fees charged to trucks – $19 per axle – were too high. It also said giving control of the border to an outside concessionaire was a threat to national security and that the reduction in waiting times was not as dramatic as the firm said. Baran’s chief executive, contacted via ZBCC’s website, did not respond to requests for comment.

With Baran gone, the state-run border posts muddled through until September, when DRC upgraded its systems from ‘Sydonia++’, a set-up widely used in the 1990s, to a web-based successor called ‘Sydonia World’, freight operators and regional trade experts said. Although UNCTAD was pushing use of ‘Sydonia World’ as far back as 2002, the data burden was too much for DRC’s computer networks, which crashed.

“The system is very good but if you don’t have a decent Internet connection, it doesn’t work,” said Mike Fitzmaurice, a South African logistics consultant and editor of online trade journal Freight Into Africa. National government spokesman Lambert Mende said a vice finance minister had been despatched from Kinshasa, 1,500 km away, to resolve the problem.

Zambia too is pulling out the stops to get the border moving again in a region important to its economy. “We need to have a normal flow of goods and services because this affects the entire region,” deputy trade minister Miles Sampa told Reuters. One stop-gap solution has been to scan documents in low-resolution black-and-white, rather than full color, to ease the data burden. But even if the two sides iron out the immediate snafu, the fiasco has provided another example of the dream of a seamless, integrated African border crossing falling short of reality.

Zimbabwe and Zambia upgraded their Chirundu border to a one-stop frontier in 2009 but crossing times have only dropped from 38 hours before to 35 now, according to Fitzmaurice, who compiles weekly records on delays. By contrast, customs clearance within the 114-year-old Southern African Customs Union (SACU) – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland – can be as little as 30 minutes. “Once you go north of SACU, into Zimbabwe, Zambia, wherever, there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ border post,” Fitzmaurice said. “The concept behind all these systems is good but the implementation just falls down every time.” Source: Lusaka Voice

ZRA Border Scanners will increase revenue – Commissioner

ZRA scanner commissioned at Kazungula border post (Picture: mwebantu.com)

ZRA scanner commissioned at Kazungula border post (Picture: mwebantu.com)

Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Commissioner General, Berlin Msiska, says the investment of scanners in borders will help yield additional revenue for government. And ZRA Commissioner for Customs, Dingani Banda, says the introduction of the scanner will enable the authority to take five minutes only to inspect a truck, not five hours as was the case in the past. Commissioning a non-intrusive inspection equipment or scanner at Chanida border on Tuesday, Msiska said the equipment would help in facilitating trade.

He said instead of carrying out several physical inspections as was the case previously, ZRA would now be using a scanner.

“Through the use the scanner, we might get possible concealment in the trucks, but what we now intend to do, which we have always done as ZRA is that where we find that goods are being smuggled into the country, we are going to take stern action against those in borders. This will include an aspect of prosecution. Now, we have also intensified operations inland in that we have established a mobile compliance unit to deal with the inland enforcement of certain smuggled commodities,” Msiska said.

He said the scanner would also enable ZRA to carryout risk-based scanning services. He said the equipment would help expedite the process of clearing at the border. Msiska said the equipment whose total investment was US$5.2 million was set up by Nuctech, a Chinese firm.

And Banda said the implementation of the scanner at Chanida border would help ZRA in a number of ways. He said previously, if they suspected that a truck could be carrying goods that might require physical inspection, they would take an average of five hours to do the inspection.

“Now, with the scanning technology, it takes less five minutes for us to do a physical inspection of a truck and for a station like Chanida where we have an average of 40 to 50 trucks coming in and going out of the country on a daily basis, this will help us in terms of the turnaround in the inspection and it will enhance our inefficiencies,” Banda said.

He said ZRA already had similar infrastructure at Chirundu, Katimamulilo and Kazungula borders. Banda said ZRA was also expecting rail scanners at both Kapiri-Mposhi and Kasumbalesa. Comment – Seems like another ‘juicy’ deal for the Chinese – Nuctech?

He also said other scanners were under construction at Mwami and Nakonde borders. Chanida border post is the main gateway to neighbouring Mozambique. Source: The Post Online (Zambia)

 

Zambia – government to crack whip on crossborder smuggling

New Kasumbalesa border post facility - time to jack up cross-border security

New Kasumbalesa border post facility – time to jack up cross-border security

Copperbelt Permanent Secretary Stanfold Msichili says Government will enhance security measures to curb rampant illegal activities at Kasumbalesa Border Post which threaten public security. Mr Msichili has also directed Chililabombwe acting District Commissioner, Frank Siatwinda, to establish how Congolese managed to set up a booming trading place on the Zambian soil where assorted wares were being sold.

He said the Government would find a lasting solution to combat rampant illegal activities which threatens public security and that there were plans to engage concerned parties from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Open Market has been built on our land because of its proximity to the trading area. It will not be easy to control the situation but Government is committed to finding a long-term solution.

Mr Msichili was saddened that scrap metal from DRC, which was banned for export in that country, was being smuggled into Zambia and reloaded for onward transportation to South Africa. He’s adamant that these issues should be addressed by the police, customs and immigration because we are allowing scrap metal to pass through the country. Earlier, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) Kasumbalesa Border station manager Levy Simatimbe told Mr Msichili’s delegation that illegal activities were rampant at the border with some Congolese traders at the controversial Open Market on the Zambian side selling the banned alcohol, ‘Tujilijili’.

During the tour, Kasumbalesa police assistant superintendant Anthony Mphanza said the existence of the Bilanga Township, a few metres from the Zambian side where the population of foreigners was swelling posed a security threat. The Bilanga Township may encroach the Zambian side because its population of foreigners was concentrating along the areas where there was potential for trading in essential basic commodities, like maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, timber, household items, among other items. Illegal trade in cement was becoming a huge public concern at the border. It is estimated that about five tonnes of cement was illegally sold to DRC everyday. Congolese freely come to Comesa Market at Kasumbalesa Border to sell and buy different items. They carry about 10 bags of 25 kilogrammes on a bicycle. Source: The Times (Zambia)