Foreign airlines, Zimra clash over penalties
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According to the airlines, the practice is only unique to Zimbabwe as no other destination imposes such penalties.
The airlines insist that Chapter 28 of the Customs and Excise Act does not make reference to the offence, nor does it stipulate a fine of $200 that Zimra is charging.
They have further indicated that as a matter of principle, they will only pay the fine after the law and fine have been clarified.
Passengers that have been affected by the stand-off have had their goods seized pending auction if the airlines do not pay the fines.
Although in some instances passengers have offered to pay the fines, Zimra insists that it has to be paid by the relevant airlines.
Some cases have escalated to a point where they have even spilled into the courts.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Business indicate that airlines that have been affected include Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and British Airways Comair. It has also since been established that the airlinesâ€™ umbrella bodies, the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR), and the Airlines Operatorsâ€™ Committee (AOC), are seized with the matter and are actively engaging Zimra.
In particular, operators are facing increased challenges in servicing the Dubai/Johannesburg and Guangzhou route, which has been most affected.
Chairperson of the BAR Mrs Winnie Muchanyuka said they are presently deadlocked.
"The issue that we have with Zimra is not even a big issue as far as the airlines are concerned. Itâ€™s an issue of interpretation: what they term cargo and what we term cargo in airlines are two different things. They say that cargo is any commercial goods; for us, cargo is any baggage or pieces of luggage that does not necessarily travel with the passenger.
"We have always been manifesting cargo - that is international practice. But for accompanied luggage we donâ€™t have to know what the customer is carrying, besides checking whether the goods are not dangerous. This is because we have limited liability as far as the passenger goods are concerned.
"As long as Zimra is interpreting cargo as commercial goods, then we are not going anywhere, and this is where our deadlock is. However, we are still engaging," said Mrs Muchanyuka.
One of the passengers affected told this paper that he had been relegated to the sidelines as the drama continues to unfold.
"I arrived from Dubai on May 2 2012. My luggage is still seized at Zimra and there is a deadlock. Zimra says luggage with a value of more than $1 000 should not come by passenger planes but should be on cargo. Airlines say this is ridiculous for there is no such restriction anywhere in the world. They claim that as long as they have capacity, they will carry as much luggage as they want. Their argument being the responsibility of paying duties, VAT and other fees rests with the passenger, which responsibility I never reneged on.
"It was my first time to bring goods worth more than $1 000 so I was caught completely by surprise. The passenger is ignorant of this new restriction because it is a restriction imposed on the airline. The issue with Zimra is not that I refused to pay duty or VAT, but the issue is the airline (name withheld) should pay a fine for carrying commercial baggage on a passenger plane. The airline flatly refuses to pay a fine, saying it is not the international practice. I offered to pay the fine myself, but Zimra refused, insisting the fine should be paid by the airline," said the passenger.
He also noted that he has since been advised by Zimra that if the dispute is not resolved after three months, his goods worth more than $12 000 will be auctioned.
However, Zimra director legal and corporate services Mrs Florence Jambwa said last week the authority doesnâ€™t fine airlines for carrying commercial cargo but penalises them for not manifesting the commercial cargo that they carry on behalf of the passenger in advance of arrival in Zimbabwe.
Failure to comply, she said, "may lead to pilots being prosecuted as they would be breaching the Zimbabwe Customs and Excise law".
Zimra also indicated that the submission of cargo manifest and transmitting in advance is international practice, noting that the World Customs Organisation (WCO)â€™s SAFE Framework of Standards in the 6th Standard of the Customs to Customs Pillar provides that the Customs Administration should require advance electronic information on cargo for purposes of risk assessment.
Zimbabwe is a member of the WCO and is a signatory to various conventions and instruments of the WCO, including the SAFE Framework.
It is also claimed by the authorities that the legal requirement for submission of advance manifests in Zimbabwe was effective from January 1 2012.
Correspondence between some of the airlines and Zimra seen by this paper shows that the carriers insist that the nature and content a passenger can or may carry on a passenger aircraft is not determined by the airline as long as there are not restricted items such as dangerous, harmful or prohibited goods or weighed baggage over the limit of 32 kilogrammes.
However, a passenger might also carry more baggage weight over and above the free allowance but within the restricted weight per pieces of 32 kilogrammes at a surcharge which is termed excess baggage.
In addition, they also maintain that they have no control or knowledge of what the passenger is carrying at the point of checking in from different airports worldwide from where they would have originated from, besides verifying that they are not carrying restricted items as required by IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation).
It is feared that the dispute between the local authorities and the foreign operators will taint the reputation of Zimbabwe as a destination, especially at a time when the country is aggressively trying to rebrand and lure more visitors and investors. The countryâ€™s manufacturing sector is presently subdued, a development that has made the destination a high import market. Authorities have, however, been trying to avoid an influx of goods from foreign market that could further hurt the countryâ€™s productive sectors.
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