You might be aware that there are long queues over at the Beitbridge border post because ZIMRA’s Asycuda system is down. We wrote about how ZIMRA employees are having to manually record import and export documents which is slow as you can imagine.
All borders are affected but Beitbridge being the busiest border in Southern Africa will feel it the most.
The Asycuda (Automated System for Customs Data) has been down since the 13th of December which has led to insanely long queues. It has been taking up to a week to clear cargo and ZIMRA has taken a few measures to try to help manage the delays as Asycuda remains down.
We understand that systems sometimes fail and so we kind of expect that whenever one relies any system they would at least have one backup in case there is system failure. Or at least to continuously assess the suitability of your systems taking into consideration projected usage and age of equipment.
So are we saying that there aren’t any technically gifted people employed by ZIMRA who could have foreseen the challenges that ZIMRA is facing with Asycuda? No. That’s what frustrates me.
The Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Terrence Mukupe spoke to the Herald and said,
I was talking to the IT people and we found out that they knew in August that the servers that they had were acquired in 2011 and basically they were going to shut down.
That right there is infuriating. It means the ZIMRA employees are competent but are being thwarted by red tape. Yes, the ‘IT people’ apparently made it known that the servers needed replacing months ago but nothing was done. Now we are not ZIMRA employees but I think almost everyone would conclude that revenue collected at the borders is quite important to ZIMRA.
If that’s the case then one would assume that if ‘IT people’ communicated the above way back in August then there must have been a huge cost barrier to replacing the ageing equipment. One would be wrong. Said Deputy Minister Mukupe,
You find that the servers cost $130 000; that is all they cost but because of the processes that you have, it will take you three, four, five months to go to the SPB and by the time you deal with the processes, you have got a disaster.
It may not be so for us as individuals but $130,000 is peanuts for ZIMRA. That’s especially so when it is to spend to reequip an important division of theirs. We are talking about a ZIMRA which collected over $352m in November alone.
The SPB he mentioned there is the State Procurement Board. They need to be shamed right now. I do not know what kind of deliberations or research or budget allocations they have to juggle but taking five months to process procurement requests is just ridiculous.
If it is a case of the SPB employees being overloaded with work then that will have to be fixed. This is not to say 5 months is acceptable by any stretch. Thing is, even if it’s a case of too much work, surely some issues take precedence over others regardless of when the procurement requests were made.
The problem we have is that some government employee out there just sits on documents unless there is a fire burning. Now that the fire is burning at the borders the request will be rushed through. We need to fix this as Zimbabweans. It’s not just some government employees, it can be said that as Zimbabweans we don’t really believe in maintenance but fixing what is broken.
The server replacement at ZIMRA was not prioritised because on the surface they still functioned as normal. You have every right to be infuriated by this even though we both know you personally wait until your car breaks down on the highway before you even consider changing oil filters.
For ZIMRA, the system outage could not have come at a worse time, the festive season. The busiest time of the year at the borders came and the outdated servers gave up the ghost.
It has been reported that some importers have redirected their cargo through Botswana to avoid the Beitbridge delays. So the cargo going from South Africa to the north of Zimbabwe is bypassing Zimbabwe and the country is losing out on millions of revenue. All because someone sat on requisition slips in some government office out there.