KATIMA MULILO - Despite being one of the busiest border posts in Namibia with over 20 000 arrivals in a single month and raking in over N$30 million in revenue collection for state coffers last year alone, Wenela in the Zambezi Region remains inadequately resourced.
Infrastructure at the border post is unable to cater for the growing number of travellers and this is exacerbated by staff shortages and the lack of accommodation for staff.
These sentiments were shared by customs and immigration officials, when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics and Public Administration recently visited the border as part of its oversight function of inspecting capital projects in the country. The Ministry of Finance that oversees the customs and excise directorate falls within the mandate of the committee.
Wenela, a frontier post between Namibia and Zambia, lies on the north-western outskirts of Katima Mulilo. Due to increasing cross-border trade and the opening of the Zambezi bridge that has brought about the easy flow of traffic between the two countries, the border is often bustling with travellers and the long queues of trucks is often a daily occurrence.
According to Willbroad Poniso, the deputy director of customs and excise responsible for the north-eastern regions, even though concerns have been raised multiple times, Wenela remains the only border post with no accommodation for officials, thereby affecting operations. “Most of our concerns have not been addressed up to now.”
Officials commute everyday risking their lives. “When the border post was first built, it was only targeted for the police, customs and immigration. With the opening of trade, the post has faced an influx of the exchange of goods between SADC countries and as a result we have many officials manning offices and the place has become too small,” said Poniso.
Poniso added that some officials are not natives of Zambezi and therefore find it difficult to find suitable accommodation.
Poniso was also concerned about societal challenges that may result from the congestion if the status quo remains, noting that apart from inadequate facilities, there is also an acute shortage of staff and that the latter has opened doors for smugglers of goods, robbing the state of its much-needed revenue.
“Sometimes the congestion of trucks extends up to Unam Centre about 500 metres away. This may also result in prostitution. There is always a long queue of trucks while officials doing the inspections are very few and this may result in the smuggling of goods. For example, we only have one person working at the scanner that requires a staff complement of seven people. The border is no longer sufficient enough to cater for the increasing volume of trade,” he said.
To fast-track processing at the border, Poniso suggested that Namibia emulate its Zambian counterpart by embracing the one-stop border post concept that would integrate all services at the border to reduce unnecessary bureaucratic procedures.
“We have met with our Zambian counterparts to see the modalities of the concept. In Zambia it’s already operational while ours is still in the pipeline,” added Poniso.
Among a raft of other concerns raised were worn-out uniforms for officials, water shortages, dilapidated ablution facilities and lack of shelter for security agents.
“When it rains or when it’s hot, it’s difficult for the police to perform their work without shelter. We would like to increase our revenue collection and security at the border but this challenge hinders us from doing so,” he said.
Officials complained that in 2016 similar concerns were raised to members of parliament but nothing has been done. The committee noted that concerns raised would enjoy priority and that the tabling of the report on the findings would pave the way for the committee to pressure the ministry concerned into action without delay. The committee is chaired by Heather Sibungo, who was accompanied on the visit by fellow lawmakers, Annakletha Sikerete, Loide Shinavene and Elifas Dingara.
*Geoge Sanzila works for the National Assembly in the Division: Research, Information, Publications and Editorial Services.