Countdown to D-Day

In little over 2 weeks from now, the South African Revenue Service together with its business partners in South African commercial trade will usher in a new customs clearance dispensation. Notwithstanding many trials and tribulations on both sides, there is a steady commitment and determination to successfully introduce the single biggest change to impact the country’s import / export community. It is only right that there should be anxiety, trepidation, and cautious optimism. Modernisation in the Customs domain is not new, internationally, and most definitely not in South Africa. Obvious too are those who wish to detract from the hard work already accomplished, to the point of seeking any fracture, shortcoming or delay as reason to doubt the ability of this country to implement a modern electronic trading environment.

True, there is a lot of reputation at stake…surely all the more reason to toil tirelessly over the last remaining weeks to best prepare ourselves for this event. In reality it is my wish that this event be a ‘non-event’ – to the extent that it provide as seamless as possible a transition for internal and external users. However, that is wishful thinking since the sheer scope of this programme necessitates ‘challenges’ to both 3rd party service provider, trader, trade practitioner, and customs policy makers alike. Over the last 2 months, not a day has gone by without one or other procedure, policy or IT technical issue being raised which necessitates a rethink or alternative consideration.

Modernisation programmes have a transitional element which poses difficulties in terms of timing and coordination. In the South African context the first phase is about putting Customs and the trading community in the right space to migrate from dated legacy clearance practices to principles of a new customs legal dispensation – to be introduced sometime in 2011. Information Technology is undoubtedly the key enabler here, which is the reason SARS chose the migration from clearance by ‘purpose code’ to ‘customs procedure code’ as the catalyst to kickstart its longer term modernisation strategy. Phase 1 is the most critical delivery in that its outcome not only determines the collective ability of Customs and Trade to modernise, but the ‘apetite’ to continue the journey over the next phases of this programme to bring into being a true fully automated end-to-end supply chain.

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