Local traders continue to smuggle products such as cooking oil and cigarettes from neighbouring countries, saying the smuggled products are cheaper than those produced locally.
Investigations have revealed that there is rampant smuggling of items such as cooking flour, cigarettes, cooking oil and frozzy drinks among others in districts sharing borders with Mozambique and Zambia.
On Saturday, an investigation was conducted in Mulanje where smugglers use bikes, motor cycles (commonly known as Kabaza) and cars to ship in their goods through uncharted ways.
Smugglers were seen using routes in Mulanje Bale constituency in Village Mwachokola, Traditional Authority Mabuka.
The smugglers ship in items at an area called “New Port” which connects Malawi and Mozambique. At New Port, the traders buy items from a Mozambican area called Mwanyanje which gets commodities from Maputo.
One of the smugglers, [name withheld], said they have settled for smuggling items as the commodities were cheaper in Mozambique.
“It is better to take the risk of smuggling items rather than ordering from Malawi companies. Imagine we buy a 50kg bag of flour in Mozambique at K20,000 or less but here it cost above K23,000. As for cooking oil we buy at 10 litres at K10,000 or less in Mozambique but here in Malawi it cost more than K13,000. So it is better to get a lot of items in Mozambique to sale at a profit,” he said.
His colleague added that they are hardly caught as patrols were rare.
“Even if we get caught it is easy to bribe officers or pay the fine. So if we take all the expenses into consideration it is better to get items such as flour, cooking oil and cigarettes from Mozambique,” he said.
Another merchant said Malawian products were of higher quality but expensive.
“To be honest our [Malawian] flour and cooking oil are better but people do not buy because they are expensive. This is why we smuggle such items to supply to the local market. For the cooking oil the situation has been made worse following the re-introduction of VAT on cooking oil,” he said.
In September last year Minister of Trade, Sosten Gwengwe, revealed that the ministry was exploring deployment of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers in the country’s borders to curtail smuggling of goods into Malawi.
The statements came against a background of some private sector players claiming that the vice is impacting negatively on their business on the local market.
Gwengwe acknowledged to the local media that the problem was huge and that many local companies have logged complaints with the ministry.
He promised to engage various security agents including the MDF and Malawi Police Service on tightening border security.
Recently, Malawi Revenue Authority in a statement promised to mount roadblocks to check whether goods which have been cleared for export, import or are in transit are if all the necessary procedures were followed in accordance with the law.
“Let us also not forget that roadblocks are also mounted to protect those law abiding citizens who duly clear their goods at the border so that nobody pay less or more taxes,” MRA said.