Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) have pledged to crack down on cross-border trade barriers women traders face.
The two entities held sensitisation campaigns on simplified trade regime (STR) in Mchinji and Lilongwe on Wednesday and Sunday, respectively, where women traders raised a number of challenges that they face on their business trips.
Top on the list of the barriers are harassment by fiscal police during border checks and that some of them are charged unexplained taxes on some goods.
Under STR, governments of Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia signed an agreement to remove some taxes on certain goods on the STR list to foster growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
But reacting to the claims made by women, Mchinji Police Station officer-in-charge Owen Maganga said the police are already addressing the fiscal police challenge by recruiting more female fiscal police officers.
He said: “We know that problem and it is partly because officers who conduct the search are male so some women feel embarrassed by that. However, management is recruiting more female fiscal police officers to deploy in the border posts.”
On taxes, Lilongwe MRA port deputy station manager Tamandani Mainjeni said there is a misunderstanding between MRA officials and cross-border traders on taxes under the waiver.
He said: “The challenge we have is that traders know about STR but they don’t know which taxes have been removed. Currently, it’s only import and exercise duties that have been removed but value added tax [VAT] is still there, so maybe that’s what the women are referring to.”
Mainjeni, however, said MRA management will take up the concerns for further investigation.
“We will take appropriate action once we discover that some officials really do as the women allege but as for now, these are mere allegations we don’t have formal complaints,” he said.
The campaigns, aimed at supporting cross-border female traders’ rights, were organised by the Association of Cross-border Traders in Malawi with support from the Southern Africa Trust (SAT).
SAT representative Christabel Phiri said they are committed to working with the association to safeguard women traders’ rights. Ministry of Trade and Industry deputy director Diamond Chikhasu said the ministry will ensure that the STR is popularised so that people know their rights.