Bulawayo: State media reports that congestion at Beitbridge Border Post has forced the Government to intervene and en-force recommendations made last year for the smooth movement of both human and vehicle traffic. Passing through the border post in the last few days had become a nightmare as in some cases it took more than eight hours for a person to go through. There were long, winding queues on the Zimbabwean side of the border.
Since Tuesday the traffic has been separated into returning residents, buses, tourists and visitors, commercial and private motorists for easy clearance. Prior to this, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the Department of Immigration were lumping the traffic, causing congestion. It would take over four hours between Sunday and Monday for travellers to have their passports stamped by immigration and goods cleared by Zimra.
According to Finance minister Tendai Biti who toured the border post on Tuesday in the past they had recommended that more immigration and customs officers be deployed to border post. He also said: "We also agreed to do away with some unnecessary clearance procedures which were causing delays."
Minister Biti said it was proper for Zimra to use the green and red route customs clearance system which separates travellers with goods to declare and those without. Congestion at the border post had mainly been attributed to manpower shortages. Zimra deployed 45 more relief officers from less busy stations yesterday, while the Department of Immigration deployed an additional 15.
Zimra needs at least 247 technical staff, including supervisors, at Beitbridge Border Post, but they had a staff establishment of 141. The Department of Immigration needs between 70 and 80 workers, but it was operating with 55 officers, including support staff.
Figures from the Department of Immigration indicate that 48 011 people entered the country between last Friday and Sunday night through Beitbridge, while 16 782 left the country during the same weekend. The numbers are expected to peak between today and Saturday. Minister Biti said Zimra and Immigration officers had worked hard to reduce congestion.
"We are happy with the situation on the ground which has greatly improved as compared to the past where people would spend over three days waiting to be cleared into Zimbabwe," he said. "The Department of Immigration is using the tagging system to clear buses, which has proved to be very effective considering that over 50 buses pass through per day."
Minister Biti said infrastructural development remained a challenge at the border post, but the Government was working towards upgrading it. "When this border post was constructed, it was meant to clear fewer than 4 000 people per day, but with the situation on the ground, between 23 000 and 25 000 travellers access the border daily," he said.
"During off peak time, officials here attend to an average of 6 000 travellers. We had anticipated that things would drastically improve after we engaged Southern African Infrastructure Company on 18 August last year, but that came to naught as the company failed to start work within the agreed 14 months."
Minister Biti said the contract with the construction company had since been cancelled and the Government will get back to the drawing board to engage a serious company capable of doing the job.
"The agreement was that the company would expand the border post and construct flats for both Zimra and immigration officers, but it has failed," he said. "One of the major challenges we have is accommodation for members of staff, which then leaves Zimra and immigration operating below strength."
Minister Biti said the Government was consulting with South Africa over the implementation of a One-Stop border post at Beitbridge. The first One-Stop border post in Southern Africa was established at Chirundu recently by Zimbabwe and Zambia.