THE first cars I imported about 10 years ago arrived in the country smoking despite paying the Japan Export Vehicle Inspection Centre Company Limited (JEVIC) for pre-export roadworthiness inspection.
By then US$200 per car was not as hurting as it is now when the new cost lingers between US$300 and US$400.
Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) the initiator of this costly but necessary venture, contend that it reduces the risk of unsafe and substandard vehicles entering our country.
This is debatable because all used vehicles imported into Zambia have to undergo another mandatory fitness test done either manually or electronically by the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA).
Most JEVIC-certified cars fail the local test.
Five years ago our country was importing about 1,500 car imports per month. This figure has been rising steadily and steeply in the â€œmore money in your pocketâ€ government.
The increase in the used motor vehicle imports can be partly attributed to the civil servantsâ€™ salary hike coupled with favourable bank car loan facilities.
The result is that even by conservative terms, Zambia imports on the higher side of 4,000 vehicles from Japan every month.
But this five-year triple increment has been a cash cow for one company called JEVIC.
Imports assure this company and its agents a fair share of US$1.5 million, not annually but monthly.
What ripple effect this amount may have on our economy every month is anyoneâ€™s guess.
Although economists might argue that money matters are not as straight as they seem, a cool US$1.5 million, if well channeled, can make a major difference on the lives of ordinary Zambians.
This is where tact and negotiation comes in handy.
A government-to-government arrangement can put a caveat on all exporters of Japanese vehicles to Zambia by compelling them to follow minimum standards at their own expense.
This could encompass, among others, limitations on the age of vehicles, which directly eliminate cars with chlorofluorocarbons and safety and mechanical inspection, which is expected of car exporter. Zambia should have zero tolerance on dumping.
Why not have our own border inspection levy of say US$200 per car that could directly filter into our economy through the national Treasury?
Importers, who pay JEVIC anyway, are willing to pay this fee whether in Zambia or in Japan as long as it goes into Zambiaâ€™s coffers.
It is not a hidden fact that ZABS has been arbitrarily charging about 30 percent for the cost insurance and freight (CIF) of imported cars that evade paying JEVIC at our borders.
If this charge and inspection was localised, it might entail the erection of state-of-the-art border inspection centres, whose vehicle rejects can feed our scrap metal industry.
The long term effect could change the outlook of Nakonde, Kazungula, Chirundu, Livingstone, Katete to mention a few border points.
JEVIC is a Japanese-registered company that, unfortunately, is feeding right into the economies of vulnerable African countries like Zambia.
Although this company is highly respected for its pre-shipment inspections and certification of cargo, the underlying factor is that all its proceeds benefit Japan and its citizens and not the importing companies.
Iâ€™m yet to research on its shareholding; perhaps there could be some African nationals or even Zambians who might have propelled this Yokohama-domiciled company.
In the recent past there have been some concerns about the sharp increase in the number of second-hand vehicles that have flooded our country.
There were intimations that Government was even contemplating altogether banning second-hand vehicles, as most of them had been declared unsafe in their countries of origin.
This is the more reason a government-to-government arrangement is the way to go and one clear parameter is to use the age of the vehicles.
I know that ZABS might come out with guns blazing over this article, but my reasoning hinges on how the money we are injecting into Japan could improve our countryâ€™s economy.
JEVICâ€™s premise on the Zambian Standard ZS 560 â€“ Code of practice for inspection and testing of used motor vehicles as declared in late 2006 can be localised.
The author is a social and political commentator.
Is JEVIC milking our precious forex?