Businesses bleed as border  chaos continues

Businesses bleed as border chaos continues

MASERU – COMPANIES say they are losing millions of maloti due to delays at the Maseru Bridge Border.

They say they are paying huge transport bills because of the long delays.

And their businesses are bleeding money due to stock delays.

In the past three weeks traffic at the Maseru Bridge Border has almost ground to a halt as the South African side struggles to stamp passports and clear goods fast enough.

Business owners tell stories of how their trucks have spent days at the border. Haulage companies are charging penalties for extra hours spent at the border.

“You cannot make decisions because the whole process is not under your control. Someone on the South African side is sleeping on the job,” says a businessman who owns a bottle store in Maseru.

He says some of his suppliers in South Africa have said they might stop sending him stock until the situation improves.

“They just cannot sustain such delays.”

If it’s not the transport costs then it’s the delays in the turnaround time.

Take Pick n Pay for instance. Any extra minute their stock spends at the border affects sales.

“If you cannot get stock on time then it’s obvious that your sales will be affected,” a Pick n Pay official said this week.

Likeleli Kotela, a hiring and supply manager at Piripiri restaurant, said they have been struggling to get stock on time.

“Our driver is still at the border gate since yesterday. We are losing customers as they cannot dine without wine,” Kotela said on Monday.

“We are importing wine from South Africa as the restaurant is Portuguese, and it takes two full days for our products to cross the border.”

If it’s not the immigration system that has crashed then it’s the clearing system that is down, he said.

“If the governments don’t deal with these issues some investors might walk away.”

The border delays were top on the agenda of a meeting held in Ladybrand last Saturday.

The meeting was organised at the behest of a group of South Africans who have businesses in Lesotho. It was attended by officials from South Africa’s immigration department and the South African Revenue Services (Sars).

Officials from Lesotho’s Ministry of Home Affairs were invited but could not attend after they were told that it was for South African businesses.

Basotho businesses also did not attend the meeting.

A businessman who attended the meeting said “the officials were full of excuses”.

“Sars said they are now using a national server and sometimes it crashes,” he said.

“The guy from immigration said they were switching to a biometric system that is taking too long to process people.”

“But most of us think that it has something to do with lack of enough staff on the South African side. Its either that or they are just on an undeclared go-slow,” he said.

Tsholo Moeti, a manager in the immigration office at the border, said he could not comment because he is not allowed to speak to the media.

Head of Ports, Stephen van Neel, said he attended the Ladybrand meeting. Van Neel said one of the problems is that “the Lesotho side is processing people faster than the South African side”.

“We are using different systems and our process takes much longer than the Lesotho one,” van Neel said.

The other problem, he said, was that South Africa has introduced a biometric system.

“So where a counter used to take 90 seconds to process one person it now takes three minutes”.

Van Neel said he was working on “a number of initiatives to make the process faster”.

“I have just made suggestions which they are going to implement in the next few days and we will monitor the situation.”

He however said it might take a “few weeks for the problem to be completely solved”.

Senate Sekotlo

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