IT IS pathetic that the Zambia Revenue Authority has allowed the continued importation of edible oil because there is no Statutory Instrument to the ban announced by Minister of Agriculture Given Lubinda.
The tragedy is not really in the defiance but in the reasoning.
The minister for example made it very clear that some of the people importing tonnes of litres of cooking oil were hairdressing salons which disguise the oil as hair treatment.
This kind of misrepresentation is morally and indeed economically reprehensible because it undermines local industry which has invested heavily in edible oil production only to be undercut by cheap imports.
Cheap imports are virtually smuggled into the country with the connivance of officials.
Our farmers have been complaining that most oil seed used in edible oil manufacture has suffered a sharp market decline because imports of refined edible oil has seriously harmed the local oil extraction industry with the result that farmers are unable to find markets for their crops.
This situation should never arise because the various arms of Government must move in concert to protect the best interests of the country.
It is wrong for ZRA, if it does so, to allow imports by hair salons because the tariff must certainly be different between edible oils and pomades. If the two are not different then there must be something wrong with the classification which must be changed instantly to deal with the prevailing situation.
It does not make sense to perpetuate a practice that is clearly fraudulent in nature simply because no Statutory Instrument has been published.
The practice of importing edible oils disguised as hair formulations is totally unacceptable and no Government agency should render any credence by resorting to statutory excuses. The ZRA must be proactive, responsive and sensitive to the dictates of national interest.
When a minister discloses a scandal, it is the duty of every department to respond to that prompting because as political officials ministers are not expected to effect and implement Government policy. Their role is to identify a vision and provide a direction.
That is why it is totally unacceptable that we should have a drop of imported cooking oil, after the minister stated quite clearly that a ban had been imposed from March 14. It is our hope that the ZRA will play a role in effective import management to ensure that no undesirable items are imported into the country simply because the law may suffer a lacuna in which unscrupulous traders will allow imports that destroy and harm local industry and enterprise.
It is sad for example that obsolete electronic equipment was allowed in the country which took the entire Zambia Bureau of Standards to intercept, confiscate and ultimately destroy such imports.
The ZRA must be vigilant and alive to national dictates and respond in real time to the challenges the country is facing.
We must learn from the tragedy of Statutory Instrument No. 18 over copper VAT refunds, which has seen the country earn a bad name because it was badly managed. This situation could have been avoided if a more sensitive, logical and pragmatic approach had been employed.
There was no need for the angst and controversy that resulted from leaked Government documents.