Editor's Comment

Squeeze smugglers

Despite the heavy presence of Zambia National Service officers in Chililabombwe mealie-meal is still being smuggled into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through the notorious bilanga area around kasumbalesa border with DRC. PICTURE: NKWETO MFULA

WHEN criminals get sophisticated, so, too, should authorities.  Lawbreakers should never ever think they can outwit authorities.
Therefore, law enforcers must at all times think ahead and be practical in efforts to curb crime.
This, thankfully, seems to be the case with the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), which is proactively and constantly reviewing its strategies to curb crime, in this case smuggling.
ZRA has done precisely what must be done. It has raised the bar on the fight against smuggling by suspending charging penalties on all cases and embracing a tougher measure.
It is now mandatory for all smuggled goods to be seized together with the vessel and forfeited to the State. In the past, only selected goods could be seized and this turned out to be a loophole for smugglers. Now they have to think twice before venturing into this illegality.
This will certainly deter many smugglers who have been abrogating the law with impunity knowing that a penalty fee would easily get them off the hook without losing their goods.
This will indeed send a strong message that the fight against smuggling has gotten fiercer. ZRA has taken the bull by the horns and the authority seems to have the required muscle to bring down this nuisance.
Smuggling is a serious threat to economic development and it must be dealt with as forcefully as possible.
The unscrupulous people who choose to use illegal means of importing and exporting goods to escape duty obligations must not only be exposed but also be thoroughly punished.
This illegal undertaking, if not detected and stopped, enriches individuals and could bring the whole national economy down on its knees.
Smuggling deprives Government of revenues from uncollected taxes and customs duties. It affects local industries by distorting prices of commodities besides causing production slowdown, which could lead to mass lay-offs, reduced consumer spending, bankruptcies, and lower tax collection in terms of PAYE.
Smuggling distorts trade figures because these illegal transactions are not recorded. In a country where smuggling is rife, the national image as a law-abiding and law-enforcing country is negatively affected.
Given the devastating impact smuggling can have on a country, it must be nipped the moment it rears its ugly head.
Zambia has been battling with rampant smuggling for a long time. Despite the measures put in place to curb the scourge, it seems there are individuals who have resolved that smuggling is their way of life and will continue to abrogate the law with impunity.
On Saturday, the Daily Mail reported that some unscrupulous people, in a well-calculated move to smuggle alcoholic drinks into the country, disguised the commodity worth K1 million as furniture.
Not too long ago, another truck laden with beer worth K3 million was disguised to be carrying onions. Fortunately, the alert ZRA officers impounded the truck.
It is a sad reality that smuggling has in the recent past escalated as depicted by media reports. It could also be true to say the cases exposed only point to a tip of the iceberg. The problem could be bigger than meets the eye.
What is even more disheartening is that some of these illegal activities are aided by clearing agents and some ZRA officials.
It is therefore commendable that going forward, the licences of clearing agents found to be helping smugglers will be revoked immediately and perpetrators handed to law enforcement agencies for prosecution. This also applies to any ZRA officer proved to be involved in smuggling scams.
This will certainly make the clearing agents and ZRA officers think twice before engaging in the illegality because of the high stakes.
It is good, too, that vehicles used for smuggling goods will also be seized. The onus is therefore on the owners of these trucks to be wary of dubious importers and exporters.
Transporters will therefore be doing themselves and the country a favour by reporting any illegality instead of abetting the crime.
It is also common knowledge that not all public benefit organisations are sincere in the use of their rebate certificates. Some of them, instead of being grateful for the privilege, are driven by greed to abuse the opportunity. It is only right that those found abusing their privileges are dealt as seriously as one would deal with an economic saboteur.
Let smugglers feel the squeeze and know that they cannot beat the law.

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