Harare - Authorities have established collaborative efforts to curb the rampant smuggling of goods across borders in Southern Africa after illicit trade proliferated in the wake of COVID-19.
With many countries essentially sealing borders for five months now, smugglers have moved to fill the demand for imported goods.
Information collected from revenue authorities from five Southern African countries suggests that illicit trade - mostly in consumables like alcohol, cigarettes and grocery items - has boomed since lockdowns were initiated.
Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) public relations officer Topys Sikalinda said they were collaborating with their peers in the region to curb smuggling.
“We have declared zero tolerance to smuggling of all forms, transit frauds, under declarations, under valuations, miscalculations and false documentations among others. This is our hope for closing the gap on lost revenue and all our neighbours are collaborating with us,” Sikalinda said.
He added that the authority was making use of ICT tools combat smuggling, and they had since intercepted huge quantities of alcohol and groceries which were being smuggled from Zimbabwe to Zambia.
“We are now more aggressive than ever and our customs and inspectorate officials are on the ground patrolling, fully equipped with various ICT tools such as specialised advanced fighter drones. In the past few weeks, we have intercepted various goods such as alcohol, cooking oil and used clothing coming from Zimbabwe. Most of these goods are brought all the way from South Africa and Zimbabwe is used just as a transit route,” Sikalinda said.
“We are working closely with the law enforcement agents and the judiciary to ensure successful prosecution of offenders and only last week, we had our first conviction by the courts of a Zambian smuggler in Nakonde who was jailed for two years.
“We are also relying on data exchange with other revenue authorities in the region to help us know what has was exported to Zambia well before the goods reach our borders.”
South Africa, the region’s manufacturing hub, has also suffered serious revenue losses to smugglers.
Although the country is mostly a source of smuggled goods, it has in recent months suffered a huge influx of smuggled cigarettes from Zimbabwe, driven by a high demand on the black market following a ban on retailed tobacco as part of that country’s virus control measures.
The South Africa Revenue Authority (SARS) estimates the country’s losses to cigarette smuggling at R8 billion annually.
“The issue of smuggling at border posts is very broad and multi-faceted. In terms of statistics, SARS Customs has seen a 50,3 percent overall decrease in the number of illicit busts year-on-year, which is due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant restrictions at South African borders. The number of cigarette seizures, on the other hand, increased by 154,1 percent year-on-year.
In terms of the value of the seized goods, there was a four percent increase year-on-year,” SARS head of media and communications Sicelo Mkosi said.
Despite the challenges experienced during the COVID-19 crisis, SARS has continued to focus on goods control in terms of its risk identification‚ targeting capabilities and inspection strategies.
The specialised cargo scanners have also assisted in stopping the illicit movement of goods across our borders, leaving smugglers with fewer options to facilitate the illicit movement of goods.
SARS Customs also continues to work closely with sister revenue authorities from the region to fight the scourge agencies in order to combat the illicit trade,” he said.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) public relations manager Mr Francis Chimanda said: “Numerous measures have been put in place to deal with smuggling which include collaborative borderline patrols, roadblocks, post clearance verifications and audits, use of risk management, collaboration with other law enforcement and security agents. Bilateral and regional engagements have been taking place to ensure that cross border movements of cargo is carefully monitored to reduce incidents of smuggling.”
Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique are also implementing strict border control regulations to help fight smuggling.
“We are a lonalocked country and goods are mainly brought into the country through Tanzania, and Mozambique and we have reveived lot of help from authorities there to curb the smuggling,” Malawi Revenue Services Mr Steven Kapoloma said.