In the past two weeks, cross border trade at the busy Kasumbalesa border crossing between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo has been slowly heading to a standstill. This follows delays in transit clearance procedures at both sides of the border causing a massive congestion of trucks including those carrying hazardous cargo.
By Friday, March 23, 2018, when COMESA intervened to unlock the impasse, queues at Kisanga on the DRC side stretched for about 70 km from the border to the outskirts of Lubumbashi town, a situation exacerbated by heavy rains and poor state of the road. Traffic flow had reduced from 1,500 trucks to as low as 350 trucks daily, a situation the COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya described as detrimental to the development of the economies for both countries and the region.
“The problem we have here, is simply nonexistence of integration of Customs systems. Once you integrate your systems, these problems will be a thing of the past,” he assured as he constituted a team of experts from the COMESA Secretariat to work with the respective authorities to resolve the current crisis which has caused huge loss of revenue to business people and governments.
Speaking after fact finding visit the border accompanied by government officials from both sides, the COMESA Secretary General (SG) appealed to the respective authorities to begin integrating their ASYCUDA World (Automated System on Customs Administration) to resolve the problem.
The border post handles international traffic to and from sea ports in Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa. Five transport corridors; from Beira (Mozambique) Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Walvis Bay (Namibia) and North South corridors converge at Kasumbalesa, making it one of the busiest border posts in the region. Due to the high traffic volumes, and the absence of a comprehensive Transport and Trade Facilitation programme, delays have become a perennial problem at the border post.
The current congestion is unprecedented and has stretched facilities at the border beyond their limits with crews caught up in the long queues surviving under extreme conditions as there are no facilities on the road sides. Besides, their own safety and that of their vehicles and cargo is compromised.
In 2014, a tragic fire accident involving two fuel tankers led to a fireball that consumed about 50 trucks and deaths of at least four people at Kasumbalesa.
During the visit, it was proposed that all tankers exiting DR Congo, including the empties that transport acid and fuel, should in the interim period use the Mokambo border post in Mufulira district into Zambia to relieve pressure from Kasumbalesa.
Mr Ngwenya observed that the implementation of COMESA Trade facilitation instruments will go a long way in improving performance of Kasumbalesa whose impact in terms of corridor efficiency and competitiveness will benefit the entire region.
“Trade Facilitation is the oil that makes movement of goods more efficient and economies competitive,” the SG told the stakeholders during the visit. “COMESA treaty stipulates that borders are not supposed to be used as depots but transit points and therefore there is need to decongest this border.”
Since inception, COMESA has been developing and implementing a number of trade facilitation instruments, some of which have been adopted by other regional economic communities like the East African Community. They include the COMESA Carriers’ License, the COMESA Yellow Card, the Regional Customs Transit Bond Guarantee and COMESA Virtual Trade Facilitation System.
On Saturday 24th March 2018 the Secretary General of COMESA during the tour of the Kasumbalesa Border Post conducted interviews with different stakeholders. The objective of the interviews was to find out from the stakeholders the kind of trade facilitation measures they recommended for speedy clearance at the border post. The most remarkable response was received from, Mr. Jeremiah Mandangu, a driver of a transport company that was taking cargo to D.R. Congo whose comprehensive understanding and technical articulation of the solutions during a two-minute interview was an eye opener in that it exploded the myth that it is only policy makers and technocrats who can come up with solutions.
Below is a transcript of what the driver proposed as a trade facilitation solution which will be broad cast on YouTube and other electronic media in the coming days.
Question - SG: What do you think are the causes for delays at this border post?
Answer – JM: “Here at Kasumbalesa Border Post there is a big delay, usually about seven days when you are crossing into Congo DR because the Customs authorities on the D. R. Congo side always wait for the Clearing Agents to submit scanned documents which are already on the ASYCUDA system. And this scanning process is usually done at Whisky Customs station which is about 10 kms from the Kasumbalesa Border Post.
I wonder why there seem to be a problem here at Kasumbalesa because when we are leaving South Africa we know that the customs documents are already uploaded on the system and these documents can be easily accessible by all customs authorities in the transit countries. For example, we don’t have a problem when crossing into Zambia from South Africa because the Customs System helps with the pre-clearance procedure even before the arrival of the truck at the border post like Chirundu or Livingstone.
But here at Kasumbalesa, it is strange because there seems to be no pre-clearance procedure for transit goods which I think is not correct, because the system in itself should allow the customs authorities to see the documents online on web-based platform as long as they are connected.
These people here should understand that there is no need to download the documents once it’s uploaded on the system and shall finish every necessary clearance process before the arrival of trucks at the border because that’s what creates the delays. By the way, these delays cost the governments and companies a lot of money. If you delay a truck it means you are delaying revenue collection and adding more cost to the business.
They should understand that the more they facilitate cross border trade, the more they can collect on revenue to grow the economy.
Question - SG: What is the Solution?
Answer – JM: “To solve this problem, the customs authorities should ensure that this customs data is shared between or amongst the border authorities on the transit corridor through a web based approach. I think It’s simple and applicable”