Saturday 11 February 2012 sees the implementation of new modernised customs procedures and formalities at South Africa’s first SACU land frontier office – Kopfontein – border between South Africa and Botswana. While enhancements are slanted more in terms of internal SARS customs procedure, SACU traders will no doubt experience some anxiety with the transition. For the first time SARS Customs Modernisation impacts directly on traders and neighbouring Botswana Customs operational procedures in a significant way, which will fashion operations at all remaining inland border posts of the Customs Union. Over the last few months SARS has worked with trade, the Botswana customs authority as well as the business chamber in Botswana concerning the intended changes and their impact on stakeholders. The implementation ushers in cross-cutting changes for customs staff operationally, new technology as well as legal and policy changes. In the case of the latter, a further element of the draft Customs Control Bill is introduced whereby foreign business operators (importers, exporters and road carriers) must be registered with SARS to perform customs transactions in South Africa. This is perhaps the single issue which has had ramifications for parties who regularly cross the border between Botswana and South Africa. Hopefully recent iterations of notices and explanations have helped clarify the SARS requirements. (See the SARS Customs Modernisation webpage).
Other modifications and changes include –
Elimination of paper clearance documents – this is a significant departure from traditional SACU processing where all member countries have relied on the Single Administrative Document (SAD) to facilitate intra-SACU clearance. With the bulk of clearances expected to be electronic, SARS will now only print a customs notification (CN1) which will specify the status and outcome for each clearance. This the trader will use in support of customs clearance in Botswana. SARS will therefore no longer stamp and authorise hardcopy SAD500 clearance documents. Of course, there is nothing which stops a trader printing the SAD500 for cross border purposes, only SARS will no longer attest these. As concerns SARS VAT requirements, arrangements will be made for traders to submit the CN1 for purposes of VAT returns. Details on this to follow.
Electronic supporting documents – already tried and tested at sea and airports across South Africa, traders no longer need to carry on their person hard copy clearance supporting documentation , i.e. invoices, worksheets and packing lists. These are only required should SARS indicate via electronic message that a consignment requires further scrutiny. Customs brokers and traders using EDI will in most cases have the SARS e@syScan facility available on their computer systems which makes it relatively simple and easy to scan, package and submit to SARS. In the event a trader cannot perform this electronically, he may approach any of the 4 Customs Hubs (Alberton, Cape Town, Durban, and Doringkloof) across the country, to have these scanned and uploaded by SARS. Alternatively, these can of course be delivered to the border post for manual processing and finalisation of a customs intervention. Supporting documents are linked to a unique case number which SARS notifies to the trader in the event of a risk.
Clearance processing – SARS has centralised its backend processing of clearances where goods declarations are now processed off-site at one of the 4 Hubs. No longer are clearances processed at customs branch office. All goods declarations – whether electronically submitted or manually captured – are routed to a central pool for validation, verification and assessment if flagged by the risk engine. In the case of land borders all clearances once successfully processed will receive a ‘Proceed-to-border’ message implying that the road carrier may commence delivery to the border. A key feature of the new clearance process is the availability of Customs Status Codes. These codes are initiated by the customs system at specified points in the process to alert the declarant of the status of his/her transaction. These status’s also indicate the follow-up required of the declarant to bring the transaction to a state of finality.
Automated Cargo Management (ACM) – All road carriers are now required to submit their road manifests electronically, via EDI, to the Customs ACM system. For now, SARS will not electronically match the manifest against the declaration, but will monitor compliance and data quality of electronic manifest for a period of time before initiating real-time matching and acquittal. This will invoke a significant responsibility on both trader and road remover to ensure that they both provide credible data to customs otherwise delays will occur. Upon arrival of the cargo at the border, the driver presents a printout of his electronic manifest. The manifest number is ‘checked in’ by a customs official which in seconds brings up all associated goods declarations linked to the manifest number on the system. The customs officer is able to determine the overall risk status of the vehicle. Where no risks are present a status notification (CN1) is printed for each goods declaration, and a gate pass (CN2) is handed to the driver permitting him to exit the customs controlled area. The future real-time matching will comprise a combined risk assessment of both manifest and declaration information that will result in a single risk outcome. Such risk assessment will include both fiscal and security compliance features thereby bringing SARS in line with international supply chain security standards. Going forward, risk assessment will accommodate ‘all-of-government’ requirements ensuring that all regulatory measures and associated risks are administered in a single instance obviating the need for successive, time-consuming inspections and costly delays.
Automated Customs Inspection – Following its recent introduction at the Beit Bridge border post, the new hand-held inspection tool, conveniently developed on an iPod, allows the customs border control official to electronically access, capture and upload an inspection outcome to the central customs system. This significantly improves the efficiency for this time-intensive activity where the officer can initiate a status up date electronically at the inspection site, where previously the declarant would have to wait for the outcome of the manual inspection report and release note. What’s more, the customs officer has access to the underlying clearance data and can even activate the camera function and capture visuals of suspect cargo which can be appended to an inspection case for verification by higher authority or historical reference value.
There are additional features and functionality to be introduced at Kopfontein and all remaining border posts over the next few months. These relate to improved revenue accounting, new trader registration and licensing system offering online application and approval, and a new traveller and temporary import/export processing. More about this in a future post. For traders, the benefits of the new solution at SACU land borders aim to remove random and unwarranted intervention by customs. All activities are risk driven via a secure ‘get next’ selection function ensuring that internal integrity is maintained and only ‘risk-related’ consignments/transactions are dealt with. Please visit the SARS Modernisation webpage for all the latest updates and notices on modernisation releases.