HARARE - Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) commissioner-general Gershem Pasi has urged government to shelve the idea of establishing a Ports Authority project because government has no money to embark on the ambitious venture.
Transport Minister Obert Mpofu is pushing for the implementation of the project.
Internationally, a Port Authority is a government or quasi-government public authority formed by a legislative body to operate ports and other transportation infrastructure and is financially self-sustaining.
Pasi has, however, pleaded with government against the project idea saying Zimbabwe’s Port Authority would not be able to support itself for many years after its inception due to fiscal challenges.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority latest statistics indicate that the country recorded a two percent growth in tourist arrivals from 1 794 230 in 2012 to 1 832 570 in 2013.
Despite the increase, the arrivals are yet to reach an expected peak of 2,2 million tourists recorded in 1999. The majority of 2013 arrivals were low-spending tourists from mainland Africa who came in at 1 570 799.
While Zimbabwe has 15 ports of entry which are being run by Zimra, the borders remain porous as travellers are faced with numerous challenges from corrupt officials to artificial delays in servicing travellers.
Apart from corruption, Beitbridge Border Post is dogged by a shortage of staff, with only 248 Zimra officials working at the port which requires about 336 workers.
A tourist wishing to travel to Victoria Falls via the Beitbridge border is frustrated by waiting up to four hours to be cleared by customs and immigration officials.
Not only does this frustrate Zimbabwean nationals, it also affects tourism inflows into the country with most people opting to observe the natural wonder on the Zambian side.
Apart from the frustration of waiting for hours, visitors and Zimbabweans alike are likely to endure the foul smell emanating from a tractor trailer loaded with rotting eggs and other perishables left in the sun as they struggle to be cleared on time.
Beitbridge Border Post is the busiest inland port of entry in sub-Saharan Africa, handling more than 3 500 vehicles and 9 000 people crossing daily with the numbers soaring to 20 000 during peak periods.
It collects at least $60 million in revenue monthly, accounting for 70 percent Zimra’s income which translates into 30 percent of government’s revenue.
An independent study by the South African Institute of International Affairs (Saiia) showed that while 400 trucks pass through the Beitbridge border everyday they are often delayed by up to three days.
Saiia said that each day’s delay a truck driver needs $400 which translates into an increase in the price of the transported goods.
“Given that Beitbridge Border Post is the busiest regional transit link in Eastern and Southern Africa, the fact that most of SA’s road freight to countries to the north is bottlenecked into a single lane is a critical issue,” the study revealed.
The study also noted that crime is also rife at the border as transporters often bribe corrupt officials to get the necessary documentation.
“Government officials often hold the private sector to ransom by refusing to let trucks undergo the necessary procedures unless a bribe is paid,” Saiia said.
A report compiled by the African Development Bank (AfDB) notes that Zimbabwe’s poor infrastructure is slowing down economic growth in the country.
The report titled Infrastructure and Growth in Zimbabwe: An Action Plan for Strengthened Recovery states that the deterioration in infrastructure stemmed from inadequate routine maintenance.
“Infrastructure services in road transport and communications that are provided by the private sector are now more expensive than in neighbouring countries, reflecting in part the economic costs of the deterioration,” added the AfDB.
According to the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) the country needs about $33 billion to upgrade and maintain the existing infrastructure in the next 10 years.
IDBZ infrastructure director Desmond Matete says Zimbabwe needs $33 billion to invest in infrastructure development in the next 10 years.
He notes that $11,3 billion would go towards electricity, $6,5 billion to information communication technology (ICT), $1,8 billion to water and larger chunk towards transport.
“To realise this goal we need to dedicate $1,65 billion per annum, transport and energy are the key economic enablers and we should look for solutions to address them because they assist in the promotion of trade, innovation, social cohesion and eradication of social isolation,” he added.
Economist Vince Musewe indicated that unless the country managed its’ economy better, no sustainable economic development and infrastructure development would happen.
“Zimbabwe is currently only spending a mere 6,2 percent of its gross expenditure on capital expenditure most of it (42 percent) being in agriculture while critical sectors such as energy, transport and communications receive very little attention from the fiscus,” he says.
“A country that spends 82 percent of its revenues on employment costs cannot expect a better future simply because it is not investing in that future.”