Editorial

Rein in smugglers

IT is quite baffling that despite the heavy presence of military personnel on the Copperbelt, primarily deployed to stem smuggling of mealie meal into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scourge has continued.
Not even the presence of Zambia National Service (ZNS) soldiers appears to have stopped the rampant smuggling prevailing in the region.
The precious mealie meal, that is supposed to feed Zambians finds its way into the neighbouring DRC, leaving Zambians without any.
The result is that outlets with mealie meal in stock experience near-riot scenes as desperate residents scramble for the limited supplies. Most leave empty handed, meaning that they obviously have to do without their staple food for that day.
And since authorities seem to be aware of the scourge, it appears that more stringent measures must be introduced to end smuggling. Quite clearly, the punishment meted out currently does not seem to be effective to dissuade smugglers.
It appears as though the smugglers are treated with kids-gloves when they are caught – merely having their contraband confiscated and let go with a warning.
Copperbelt Province Permanent Secretary Bright Nundwe says Government had tightened up security on various routes which connect to DRC and various borders to stop what he termed to be criminal activities.
He says Government has deployed ZNS officers, the police and the army to tighten security so that the illegalities can be curbed.
But reports on the ground paint a different story for information has emerged that hundreds of bags of mealie meal are being smuggled into the DRC via various routes that connect to that country.
One of the routes being used for the continued illegal activities by unscrupulous individuals was Kawama in Ndola.
Unscrupulous individuals are using these porous routes to smuggle the commodity which fetches a higher price across the border than the obtaining local prices in the country.
Are we to believe that the smugglers are smarter than the trained military personnel manning the area, that they have failed to identify their secret routes?
If this is so, then there is cause for fear. We think Government’s idea was to ensure that the ZNS personnel would cover every centimetre of the porous border.
Mr Nundwe as administrative head in the Copperbelt must advise whether the manpower is not enough, that they cannot cope with the extent of the smuggling.
We are mindful that for DRC citizens, especially those bordering the Copperbelt, they depend on the Zambian side for all their essential commodities. They are far from commercial and industrial areas in their country.
But a balance must be found to ensure that mealie meal and other consumer goods that they need are obtained legally.
It is important therefore that those who resort to using underhand methods to trade – smuggling – are made to pay dearly.
Maybe Government should consider making smuggling a capital offence by charging smugglers with espionage so that it would make anyone think twice, considering the repercussions.
Zambia finds herself in a position where she must ensure that all the food produced in the country is secured in view of the natural disasters that have occurred – floods, drought in some areas and now coronavirus pandemic – and placed a heavy burden on the maize reserves as misplaced people have to be fed.
To meet these challenges, smuggling mealie meal and other foodstuffs must be removed from the picture otherwise the nation would be courting disaster.

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