Importers slate govt over licence gaffe

Importers have blasted government after it hastily gazetted stringent regulations meant to control importation of goods under Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016, which has resulted in trucks accumulating demurrage at the border post, amid revelations that those who are supposed to sign for import licences were not available.

By Fidelity Mhlanga

Last Friday the Ministry of Industry and Commerce gazetted stringent regulations with effect from July ,meant to control the importation of goods available locally under SI 64 of 2016, but customs officials at Beitbridge Border Post reacted by enforcing the regulations the following day.

One importer, whose goods are valued at R1,2 million, has been stuck at the border post since last Saturday, said government erred and acted irresponsibly by hurriedly introducing the SI without proper communication thereby triggering chaos.

“Naturally, despite promises of rush release of licences, the ministry is failing to issue all licences on time. Whoever is supposed to sign licences is not available to sign them. Licences have still not been issued by the Ministry of Industry, so since Friday trucks are stuck (here at the border). For all importers trucks are accruing demurrage of anything from US$300 to US$500 per day,” he said on Wednesday.

He added: “They should have waived it for goods that were being transported and now stuck at the border. Then if you go to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to waive this and they say we don’t have to put a temporary licence. They should order the Zimbabwe Revenue Athority to waive and release goods which were already in transit.

The Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe (SFAAZ) was told the ministry will give them a licence”.

The import licence fee valid for three months is pegged at US$30.

A letter gleaned by this paper on Wednesday signed by SFAAZ chairman Felix Nyaruwanga to the association members reads: “We wish to advise you that we held the meeting with Ms Makombe, director Enterprise Development at the ministry of Industry and Commerce offices and she stated that the position of window period is not being accepted but that for all cargo that require import licences at the borders or airports they will speed up issuance of import licenses which must not take more than 3 days.

“She introduced us to her team who are handling the licenses and she stated that we should approach the members of the team. ”

Zimbabwe Cross-Border Traders Association secretary-general Augustine Tawanda said most traders were caught unaware and inconvenienced, adding that government acted in an irresponsible manner when it announced the SI.

“We have been complaining about this issue that it has caused a lot of inconvenience. Applying this policy is inhumane. People were ambushed. We were not aware. We were still busy engaging government about the previous rebate. I am actually receiving calls from our members who are at the border,” he said.

Economist Eddie Cross said government policy was ill-advised and will not address the real problems besetting the economy.

“We are doing this too often — rush to print ill-considered policy measures which will not address our real problems, but in the process make life more difficult for everyone,” he said.

“I am afraid this is typical of government — no prior consultation. Rushing to print and then imposing the new controls at the border immediately. I am glad the people took the law into their own hands and did what they did.

It is time that they know that we let them know we will not be taken for granted. I do not think import controls will contribute anything to the crisis we are in at present,” he said.

Cross said the country’s manufacturing sector is reeling in dire stress and introduction of the policy will trigger massive smuggling of goods at the country’s border posts.

“I think it will take many years to get our manufacturing sector back and functioning properly. What we need is to learn how to compete in price and quality with imports and not hide behind controls. Smuggling will grow and negate the gains made anyway,” he said.

However, responding to questions in Parliament from MDC-T MP for Harare Central Murisi Zwizwai about the rationale behind the SI on Wednesday, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the move will reduce the import bill by restricting importation of goods that can be locally produced.

“The Statutory Instrument merely removes goods from the general import licence. For you to import those goods you now have to apply for the licence. Part of our challenge is the import deficit. We are importing more than we are exporting.

“We are operating in an over liberalised foreign currency economy so we want to limit the use of foreign currency and these are some of the measures we are taking to address the import bill. We have been supporting local firms so we know what can be locally produced. Let’s support Zimbabwe,” Chinamasa told parliament.

Goods that have been removed from the general import licence and now required a permit to be brought into the country include coffee creamers (Cremora), camphor creams, white petroleum jellies, synthetic hair products and body creams.

Goods categorised as builders’ ware like wheelbarrows (flat pan and concrete pan wheelbarrows), structures and parts of structures of iron or steel (bridges and bridges section, lock gates, towers, lattice masts, roofs, roofing frameworks, doors, windows and their frames and threshold for doors, shutters, balustrade, pillars and columns) and plates, rods, angles, shapes section and tubes prepared for use in structures of iron and steelware, were also put on the list of restricted products.

The list also includes furniture, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, salad cream, peanut butter, jams, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza base, yoghurts, flavoured milks, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese.