Challenges at Chirundu One-Stop Border Post
Sean Woolfrey, tralac researcher, and Elisha Tshuma, tralac intern, discuss the challenges faced at Africa’s first one-stop border post
Efforts to boost intra-regional trade have become increasingly prominent elements of African regional integration and economic development agendas. Among other things, these efforts seek to address issues relating to the poor quality of trade-related infrastructure in the region and to promote trade facilitation initiatives aimed at making it easier for cross-border trading in the region. Given this focus on trade facilitation and improving trade-related infrastructure, it is disappointing to read news reports that Chirundu border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe was temporarily closed last week as truck drivers blockaded the border in an attempt to get Zimbabwean customs authorities to speed up border clearances, following weeks of heavy congestion and queues at the border extending five kilometres.
Chirundu border post, the principal border crossing for traffic travelling between Harare and Lusaka, is Africa’s first – and thus far only – example of a ‘one-stop border post’ (OSBP). OSBPs differ from ordinary border posts in that a bilateral agreement between the bordering countries gives each country authority to enact its rule on the other country’s side of the border, meaning only one stop for those crossing the border, which in theory should result in reduced costs associated with long delays at the border. At Chirundu OSBP those travelling from Zambia to Zimbabwe complete all their formalities on the Zimbabwean side, and those travelling from Zimbabwe to Zambia complete all their formalities on the Zambian side. This is made possible through efforts to keep systems in both countries as similar as possible and to move towards a process and tool oriented approach to integrated border management.
Since it was implemented in December 2009, Chirundu OSBP has been hailed as a notable success and an important step towards greater integration in southern Africa. In particular, the implementation of an OSBP at Chirundu has been credited with reducing the time and number of processes required for passenger and commercial clearance at the border. Various studies and reports note that prior to the implementation of the OSBP, cumbersome border procedures resulted in very long clearance times at Chirundu. Estimates of the average border crossing time for commercial vehicles before the implementation of the OSBP range from two to nine days, and some sources note that it could take up to 20 days for cargo trucks to be cleared at the border. Sources suggest that since the implementation of the OSBP, clearance times at Chirundu have been reduced to a matter of hours and that most vehicles are now cleared within a day.
Reduced clearance times translate into cost savings, and TradeMark Southern Africa has estimated that savings from reduced border delays could be as high as US$600,000 a day, with transporters, brokers, traders producers and consumers all potentially benefiting from reduced costs. Furthermore, the increased efficiency of operating systems at Chirundu, coupled with greater traffic flows through the border post have led to an increase in government revenue, without tax rates having been increased. Between 2009 and 2012, tax collection on the Zambian side increased from US$10 million to US$20.3 million a month.
Despite these apparent successes, Chirundu OSBP has not been immune to sporadic episodes of dysfunction, and the recent delays and subsequent chaos at the border were not isolated incidents. In July this year, Chirundu experienced similar scenes as congestion at the border resulted in queues of commercial trucks extending more than five kilometres. That occasion saw a brief demonstration by truck drivers, some of whom had been forced to wait at the border for almost a week for clearance, and necessitated a crisis meeting involving the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, clearing agents and other border agencies. The joint committee established at this meeting found that the delays at the border were a result of increased commercial traffic passing through the border and the fact that Chirundu OSBP was only open to commercial traffic between 8am and 5pm, and not 24 hours a day like Beitbridge border post.
Nevertheless, regardless of how big a role increased traffic and insufficient opening hours have played in recent delays at Chirundu OSBP – and anecdotal data does not provide strong support for the increased traffic argument – the smooth functioning of the border post faces additional challenges. These stem largely from the fact that the Chirundu border post was not originally designed as an OSBP and was instead modified so as to incorporate the main features of an OSBP.
One of the most significant challenges currently facing operations at Chirundu is the lack of information and communications technology (ICT) connectivity between the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the border. This has resulted in certain clearance procedures having to be duplicated as Zimbabwean Revenue Authority officers on the Zambian side of the border are unable to connect to the ASYCUDA system for computerised customs administration used on the Zimbabwean side. To overcome this problem, procedures are being completed manually on the Zambian side and then inputted on the computer system on the Zimbabwean side. Zambian border agents based on the Zimbabwean side face a similar problem in not being able to access the electronic systems used in Zambia. The lack of connectivity between the two sides of the border has also prevented the designated ‘fast track’ lane from becoming fully functional.
Other challenges facing operations at Chirundu include a need for training of new border agency staff, significant downtime of the electronic customs systems, insufficient office space on either side of the border for officers from the other country and a lack of appropriate signage on the approach to the OSBP and inside the customs control zone.
It is very important that, in the rush to proclaim the ‘success’ of Chirundu and to use Chirundu OSBP as a model for similar OSBPs throughout the region, these and other defects in the current operation of Chirundu OSBP are not simply glossed over. Identifying and addressing these shortcomings will not only serve to improve operations at Chirundu – and thereby facilitate increased trade flows in the region – but will also go some way to ensuring that any OSBPs established in the region in the future avoid the same pitfalls that have hampered operations at Chirundu.
Mleya, T. 2013. “Zimbabwe: Extend Business Hours at Chirundu”. The Herald, 10 July. Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201307100673.html
Peat, A. 2013. “Congestion chaos at two key border posts”. ftw Online, 23 September. Available at: http://www.ftwonline.co.za/News.aspx?NewsNo=20978
TradeMark Southern Africa. Chirundu One-Stop Border Post saves US$600 000 per day. Available at: http://www.trademarksa.org/about_us/programme_news/chirundu-one-stop-border-post-saves-us600-000-day
7 October 2013: tralac received feedback from TradeMark Southern Africa (TMSA) on the above Hot Seat Comment. Please find below a letter from TMSA, detailed feedback on the Hot Seat Comment, and the tralac HSC with line numbers for ease of reference.
2. Annexure 1: TRALAC Chirundu Piece – Summary of Errors Misrepresentations and Ommissions
3. Annexure 2: TRALAC Original Article from Website (with line numbers)
19 October 2013: Please find below, the tralac response to the comments received from TMSA
i) Brief note on the comments received from TMSA