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Smuggling of potatoes eludes burs

Daniel Chida
CAUGHT RED HANDED: Smuggled potatoes at the border

The import ban on selected vegetable commodities such as tomatoes, carrots, beetroots, cabbage and potatoes, which government imposed three months ago, has exposed Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS)’s porous system.

Of recent, the tax agency has been overwhelmed by the smuggling of potatoes from neighbouring South Africa.

According to a source, the potatoes are smuggled by a syndicate that involves South African farmers, Zimbabweans and local businessmen. This is said to be happening on a daily basis despite Burs operations.

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“A lot of goods go undetected at Botswana borders, as detecting goods machines remain faulty. BURS, which have the responsibility to ensure that goods that come into the country are cleared and taxed, have slept on the job. they know very well what is happening at the borders but there is nothing much the officers at the border can do because their control scanners are not functioning,” said the source.

He went on further to explain that smuggled potatoes have flooded the market with some smugglers selling them on social media while some sell in front of retail shops.

The move to ban the importation was taken by government in a bid to force local food retailers to buy vegetables from local farmers.

Although the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security could not be reached for comment, figures from Statistics Botswana show that, on an annual basis, local retailers import vegetables worth more than P100 million from South Africa.

“In September 2021 alone, retailers spent around P24 million importing vegetables outside,” the report reads.

Business Analyst, Michael Diteko, welcomed the ban but said there should have been consultation and a grace period prior to implementation.

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“We have now created a room for the black market to thrive. There are few local farmers who are into potato business, only those in Tuli Block and Gantsi areas.”

Meanwhile, a questionnaire sent to BURS two weeks ago has not been responded to despite the acknowledgment that it was received.

Police have distanced themselves from the border operations fiasco saying it is the responsibility of BURS.

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