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ZIMRAaaaaaaaZimbabwe’s Deputy Finance and Economic Planning Minister Terrence Mukupe has estimated that the country has lost an estimated $20 million in revenue receipts since ZIMRA’s automated Customs processing system (ASYCUDA World) collapsed in the wake of server failure on 18 December 2017.

During a site visit of Beit Bridge border post earlier this week, it was revealed that ZIMRA collects an estimated $30million per month in Customs duties at its busy land borders. The Revenue Authority has since instituted manual procedures.  Clearing agents are submitting their customs documents accompanied by an undertaking that they will honour their duties within 48 hours. That is, when the ASYCUDA system is finally resuscitated and this is totally unacceptable.

Furthermore, Zimbabwe lies at the heart of the North-South Corridor which handles a substantial volume of transit traffic. The threat of diversion due to lack of proper Customs control and opportunism will also create both a fiscal and security headache. The deputy minister stated that the government was considering abandoning the Ascyuda World Plus system to enhance efficiency and the ease of doing business. “We need to benchmark it with what our neighbours in the region are using”.

It has also been suggested that the ZIMRA board have been complacent in their oversight of the affair. While it is a simple matter to blame systems failure, the lack of management involvement in taking proactive steps to ensuring redundancy of the country’s most crucial revenue collection system has been found wanting.

This calamity undoubtedly signals a huge concern for several other African countries who are likewise supported by UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA software. Many question post implementation support from UNCTAD, leaving countries with the dilemma of having to secure third party vendor and, in some cases, foreign donor support to maintain these systems. The global donor agencies must themselves consider the continued viability of software systems which they sponsor. Scenarios such is this only serve to plunge developing countries into a bigger mess than that from which they came. This is indeed sad for Zimbabwe which was the pioneer of ASYCUDA in sub-Saharan Africa.

This development must surely be a concern not only for governments, but also the regional supply chain industry as a whole. While governments selfishly focus on lost revenue, little thought is given to the dire consequence of lost business and jobs which result in a more permanent outcome than the mere replacement of two computer servers.

Under such conditions, the WCOs slogan for 2018 “A secure business environment for economic development” will not resonate too well for Zimbabwean and other regional traders tomorrow (International Customs Day) affected by the current circumstances. Nonetheless, let this situation serve as a reminder to other administrations that management oversight and budgetary provisioning are paramount to maintaing automated systems – they underpin the supply chain as well as government’s fiscal policy.

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SACU IT Connectivity ConferenceRepresentatives from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa recently to refine requirements towards the development IT connectivity and electronic data exchange to facilitate cross-border customs clearance in the region. The workshop was convened by the SACU Secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish government and technical support from the World Customs Organisation.

Work already commenced way back in 2012 on this initiative. Progress in the main has been hampered by the legal agreement which to date not all members of the Customs Union have ratified. One of the features of this initiative, however, has been the continuity of support rendered by the WCO.

This event was indeed fortunate to secure – once again – the services of S.P. Sahu, former head of Information Technology at the WCO. After his secondment to the WCO he is now back in his home country where he is the Commissioner for Single Window based in Delhi, India.

S.P’s years of experience in both the technical and operational spheres of customs and the international supply chain enable him to articulate concepts and solutions in a manner which are practical and simple to understand. The workshop recognised the need to accelerate border processes and to this end the border process should be limited to physical examination, inspection, release; declaration processes should be done away from borders.

While simple enough in theory, the notion of clearance away from borders could pose challenges. Many of Africa’s borders – including those of a ‘One Stop’ kind – have not fully embraced the need to integrate processing and synchronize Customs activities. The challenge posed by ‘regional integration’ is one of surrendering national imperatives for a common regional good. It imposes a co-ordination of and development towards ‘regional objectives’ with the same level of purpose as national states do for their domestic agenda’s. In the case of SACU, it challenges member state’s stance on what real benefits the customs union should aspire to, beyond the mere sharing of the common revenue pool.

The outcome of the workshop resulted in a more refined, do-able scope and objective. With Mr. Sahu’s experience and guidance, the revised Utility Block (UB) speaks to all facets (legal, operational and technical) of the ‘regional agreement’ to the extent it specifies in the required detail the programme of action required on the part of the member stats as well as the SACU Secretariat. Refinement of the UB includes the removal from scope of the Release Message, Manifest Information and bond/guarantee message for the purpose of simplification of customs processes.

What remains are –

  • An Export & Transit Message – which includes the Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) validated and approved by the Export/Exit country.
  • An Arrival Confirmation/Notification Message – where the arrival date time would be when the import country recognises goods as received and places the goods under its customs procedure.
  • A Control Results Message – which includes the results of data matching, inspection and risk assessment based on agreed business rules.

In support of the above, SACU recently agreed on a framework of a UCR which must be further discussed and agreed upon by the respective member states. The UCR is a structured reference number which will be used by customs administrations of the respective member states to ‘link up’ import declaration data with the corresponding ‘export declaration’ data electronically exchanged by the export country.

Regional traders who have electronic clearance and forwarding capability will also play a role in the exchange of data through the exchange of the UCR on export and transit information with their counterparts or clients in the destination country. Once the exchange of data is operational between member states, it will be imperative for the importer to receive/obtain the UCR from the exporting country and apply it to his/her import declaration when making clearance with Customs.

The SACU Utility block will be tabled at a future Permanent Technical Committee meeting of the WCO for consideration and approval. A Utility Block is a concept structure which is proposed under the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative which seeks to aid and assist its members in the operationalisation of Mutual Administrative Assistance agreements.

Zimra-press statementThe movement of commercial cargo has relatively improved at most of the country’s ports after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) addressed some of the teething challenges affecting its customs online clearance system. Zimra is now using an advanced Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) for clearing commercial cargo entering or leaving the country.

However, when Zimra started upgrading its online clearance system on May 10, cargo had been stuck due to a systems failure at most of the country’s borders especially at Beitbridge Border Post, the busiest port of entry in Zimbabwe and gateway to Southern Africa.

Close to 15 000 haulage trucks per month pass through Beitbridge going either side of the border.

Zimra’s director of corporate and legal affairs, Florence Jambga, said in a recent statement that the upgrading of the customs clearing system had met with technical challenges.

“The authority is in the process of rectifying these challenges for normal online transactions to continue. Alternative measures have been put in place at all ports of entry and exit to facilitate smooth movement of cargo and reduce inconveniences to our valued clients.

“Zimra, therefore, urges its clients to approach their respective station managers for any challenges they may encounter in the movement of their cargo during this transitional period. Any inconveniences caused during this period are sincerely regretted,” she said.

In separate interviews, customs clearing agents and importers yesterday said the movement of cargo had improved as from Saturday evening.

Shipping and Forwarding Agents Association of Zimbabwe board member Mr Osbert Shumba said though the situation had relatively improved, they remained cautious.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and we are very hopeful that things will get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said.

At the Beitbridge Border Post, commercial cargo had been stuck there since Sunday last week resulting in truckers piling up on the South African side of the border.

Under a normal clearance system, cargo has to move to either side of the border after getting prior notification that the export or import papers have been processed.

By end of day yesterday trucks entering or leaving the country were being cleared expeditiously.

Asycuda is a more efficient and advanced system for customs data processing since it is Internet based.

The system allows that any clearing agent registered with Zimra can lodge a bill of entry from anywhere in the world where there is Internet connectivity. Communication between Zimra and the agent is, therefore, done electronically. Source: Customs Today

LRA Trade PortalThe Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) has undertaken an extensive Customs Modernisation Programme aimed at simplifying the processes and reducing the costs of ‘doing business’ at the border. Earlier this week, the LRA launched the Lesotho Trade Portal as an introduction of the first portion of these reforms which brings a commitment to transparency for all border users on expectations and procedures.  The launch of the portal will be followed by an introduction of simplified border procedures supported by the implementation of modern computerised systems using ASYCUDA World.

The LRA has been reorganising its structure the past year aligning it with organisational strategy, and alongside that as a result of the modernisation, there will be extensive restructuring to promote efficiency and professionalism in customs and across the LRA. Staff members are undergoing extensive training to prepare for the introduction of the new systems.

To facilitate legitimate trade and enhance compliance LRA will introduce risk based controls to enable legitimate trade to pass more freely through the border posts and following the recent pilot project, there will be a full introduction of a ‘Preferred Trader Scheme’ offering additional facilitation benefits to compliant traders.

Through use of modern technology LRA will speed up the inspection process as they will be coordinated and organised from dedicated inspection areas. There will eventually be an introduction of inland clearance to improve service delivery and clearance time.

To protect legitimate trade and reduce market distortion, there will be targeted anti-smuggling activities. This will be for deterrence of illicit and illegal goods as well as to protect the nation from prohibited importation of goods.

The Lesotho Business Partnership Forum has also voiced its unanimous approval of the Lesotho Trade Portal. It believes this milestone represents a major breakthrough in the relationship between business and government. It reveals a level of transparency in procedures and processes which business can only welcome as a sign of a more constructive and open approach to the management of government affairs.

Similarly, the traders and general public will participate in an extensive publicity campaign with announcement in the media as to how to get involved and benefit from the reforms.  A key tool in this process to keep everyone on the loop, will be the News section of Lesotho Trade Portal itself. This will be supported by an extensive communications programme and an education programme targeted at regular border users. Source: Lesotho Revenue Authority

SRA-logoThe Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) will before the end of the year migrate from the Automated System of Customs Declaration Administration Plus (ASYCUDA) to ASYCUDA World. ASYCUDA Plus is about 25 years old and sits on very old technology. The migration to a more modern web based system would improve the processes of customs clearance. Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade acting Principal Secretary Titus Khumalo said this change would also improve data collection as well as reconciliation, particularly with the country’s major trading partner South Africa in the context of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) revenue sharing formula.

He said the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Fund had provided SRA with funding and technical assistance for the migration to take shape and be fully implemented.

“The ministry is eagerly looking forward to full implementation of the migration of ASYCUDA Plus to ASYCUDA World, which will greatly improve our systems of customs clearance. We are looking forward to implementation of the findings of the Time Release Study (TRS) which was funded by the World Bank. The TRS is aimed at improving the movement of trucks and the clearance of goods across our borders as well as in our inland and dry port in Matsapha,” he said during the International Customs Day celebrations hosted by the SRA on Friday evening at the Royal Swazi Convention Centre.

Khumalo said they welcomed the substantial progress made on the trade facilitation negotiations by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) during the ministerial conference that was held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2013. The acting PS said agreements of the meeting included transit of goods as well as fees and formalities in relation to exportation and importation. He said the framework also spoke to issues of publication and administration of trade regulations.

“Another section deals with the necessary technical assistance that may be required by developing members of the WTO including Swaziland to implement the trade facilitation agreement. We were very fortunate as a country that before the ministerial conference in Bali, we hosted a workshop with the assistance of TradeMark Southern Africa (TMSA), which focused on self-assessment and priorities for Swaziland in the area of trade facilitation in the context of the WTO negotiations,” he said.

Khumalo said the report on the workshop identified trade facilitation needs for Swaziland, which would trigger funding from cooperating partners in line with provisions of the Multilateral Trade Facilitation Agreement. Source: Swaziland Observer

In the waiting... vehicle queue at Beitbridge

In the waiting… vehicle queue at Beitbridge

Scores of car importers were left stranded at Beitbridge Border Post on Wednesday after the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority‘s (Zimra) vehicle clearance system went offline for eight hours.

Zimra introduced the ASYCUDA plus system for processing vehicle imports in March this year in a bid to ensure efficiency and reduce regular interface between the customs officers and its clients. Asycuda is (Automated System for Customs Data) is a more efficient and advanced system for customs data processing since it is internet based. Upon its introduction the system left little room for wheeling and dealing between Zimra employees and criminals.

However, connectivity has remained a major challenge at the Manica Bonded warehouse where vehicle imports are processed. When The Herald visited the bonded warehouse yesterday restless car importers were seen moving around the yard while others were making numerous inquiries from the Zimra help desk.

In separate interviews motorists advised the revenue authorities to consider having a back-up plan in case of the Asycuda system breakdown. He said it was worrying that the revenue authority had introduced the Asycuda system yet they had little capacity to sustain it.

It was the second time in a week that the Asycuda system went offline after operations came to a standstill on Friday last week. Prior to the introduction of Asycuda system, Zimra had been using a station based system which operated with very few technical glitches.

Figures from Zimra show that between 60 and 100 vehicle imports are processed at Manica per day and rise to 120 during peak times. Asycuda system is connected to the parastatal’s national grid which is accessible at any of its stations countrywide. Efforts to get a comment form Zimra spokesperson were fruitless. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Nigeran flagTrade House of Representative Committee on Customs, has expressed satisfaction with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) preparedness to take charge of the destination inspection scheme at the expiration of the six months extension granted the Service Providers by the government. Chairman of the committee, Hon. Sabo Nakudu, who disclosed this during the tour to access the performance of service providers, commended the scanners provided by the service providers as part of the contract with the federal government.

Nakudu, however frowned at the Risk Assessment Report (RAR), issued by the service providers which he said is plagued with so much controversies. He noted that the basic reason for the tour, was to confirm the preparedness of the Customs to take over and to ensure that what the service provider delivered, are as expected. According to him, “In most cases, there are instances whereby this risk assessment report are duplicated or un-utilized and instances where a particular consignment being issued with different amount.

“Agencies found (to be involved) in this regard by the committee will be probed to ensure that refund is made to the federal government on the percentages gotten from the RAR duplication.” He warned.

Nakudu maintained that the service is ready and capable of taking over the scheme from the service providers at the expiration of the extension at the end of the six months period. In his words, ” I am convinced that the Customs are trained and as you can see, the scanners are in order, but our major problem is the area of the risk assessment report, because that is where the revenue comes in from.

He also, frowned at the services of connectivity to Web Fontaine, which powers the Automated System of Customs Data (ASYCUDA), over deficiencies in its service delivery, saying that, government pays the firm $6 million monthly, without any commensurate investment and efficiency to show for it.

The committee however toured the scanning operations site in the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex, and also inspected Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited (CDIL) and Global Scan Systems facilities respectively. Source: Allafrica.com

I think Nigeria has made a bold (and correct) decision to adopt responsibility for control over its mandate. Many service providers will disagree as do many of the global audit firms who believe that the field of Customs Audit (including AEO) is best outsourced to their domain. It just shows that when business opportunity in the commercial (private sector) domain is not as easy to come by how the focus turns on what public domain opportunity lies in wake for them. The more service providers/consultants in government, the more consultants are needed to oversee what the original ones are doing! This is the sad situation in South Africa at the moment.

 

Zimbabwe‘s export procedures have come under severe criticism as they are said to be contributing to the country’s poor export performance. Local manufacturers have lamented delays in documents processing by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which they say is constraining the movement of goods into regional and international markets.

Latest official statistics show that the country’s trade deficit stands at around US$2,9 billion due to the underperformance of the export sector. Surface Investments executive director Mr Narottam Somani says although they have lodged complaints with ZIMRA over the issue there have been no positive outcome.

“The CD1 approval procedures and ZIMRA Bill of entry procedures are too lengthy and as such they spoil the whole momentum of exports. Government, ZIMRA and the RBZ need to appreciate the value of reducing period of these procedures. “We have engaged officials from ZIMRA and the RBZ over the need to file our CD1 and bill of entry forms online which will help reduce the time period to one day. They say that they appreciate our concerns but nothing has materialised,” he said. (Note for South African readers – CD1 refers to a ZIM exchange control document and not the SARS’ new electronic declaration form)

Surface Investments is the country’s largest multi-oilseed processing firm and it exports crude oil to Malawi and cotton linters, and cotton hulls to South Africa and Europe.

Both exporters and importers contend that the country’s export transit procedures have not improved significantly despite ZIMRA’s rollout from last year of the ASYCUDA World version 4.0.21 to over 14 of its stations. Implementation of the system was largely expected to expedite clearance procedures at the country’s border posts. ASYCUDA 2.3 was the earliest version to be introduced in Zimbabwe in 1992 and was upgraded to versions 2.5 and 2.7. ASYCUDA++ later came on board in the form of version 1.15 and 1.18. An expert in the field of transit procedures yesterday said improving these processes would take a wider regional approach.

“Transit operations of most countries in the region typically suffer from a number deficiencies such as lack of simplified and standardised customs procedures, documents and data processing that generally yield costly implications such as delays at border posts, opportunities for theft and corruption practices, and inflated transit transport costs.

“The key area that needs to be addressed therefore relate to regional harmonisation of transit procedures.” Source: The Herald (Harare)

 

Forgive my exuberance and national pride, for one minute. After some years of intense re-organisation and strategization a new dynamic organization is set to spearhead ICT development in the Customs and Border Management industry. Many will know it by its previous name TATIS or TATIScms. The Cape Town based IT outfit is responsible for the intuitive customs software solution which currently operates in Luxembourg Customs. Let it be known that this is one tough space to operate and succeed in.

Africa, in particular, has  suffered the stigma of UN and World Bank ‘freebies’ by way of customs automated solutions – designed and developed by the west, on western philosophy with little concern for the longer term sustainability and development on the African continent. Before the emergence of commercial Windows-based software, African states (and most developing countries for that matter) had little option but to adopt ASYCUDA. The French colonies in the main sought franco-developed SOFIX. Bull Computers were particularly strong in this space and received great support from the French government in their ventures.

Just as the ‘power’ of the west is waning under financial and political turmoil, so developmental states and economies are looking to their own resources and expertise to fulfil their needs and destinies. A similar phenomenon occurred in the border and port control security space during the first decade of the 21st century, where the Chinese have virtually stolen international market share in NII (Cargo scanning) equipment.  Therefore the emergence of InterFront on the Customs ICT scene is both unique and timely. For more details on the new company and its partners, solutions and expertise please visit their website: http://www.interfront.co.za. Also read their corporate and product profile brochure – click here!

This week, Interfront are show-casing their solution and expertise at the WCO‘s 2012 ICT Conference in Tallinn, Estonia. With the international customs and border management relatively young and seeking stability, Interfront have a great opportunity to develop a regional and international footprint. SARS, in particular, looks forward to its new integrated customs solution; setting a new bench mark in global customs processing.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) is working in partnership with organised businesses associations in crafting a Memorandum of Understanding, creating the Zimbabwe Customs to Business Forum, an official has said. ZIMRA’s commissioner for customs and excise Mr Happias Kuzvinzwa said last week that the forum was a platform for his organisation and business to collaborate on issues of compliance, policy, capacity building, integrity and technical engagements. He was addressing delegates at the Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe 8th annual conference held in Beitbridge last week. Mr Kuzvinzwa said the interim steering committee was finalising the draft MoU and terms of reference.

“The forum is a prelude to the implementation of the authorised economic operator scheme. Membership of this forum is open to the businesses affiliated to recognised associations and shall be governed through a steering committee which is a higher committee, and standing committees which are lower committees chaired and constituted by both ZIMRA and business.

“The standing committees are organised in clusters for easy management of programmes. We expect all the concerned parties to sign the MoU soon upon its finalisation” he said.

Mr Kuzvinzwa added that in line with the SAFE framework of standards, ZIMRA would soon be plotting the authorised economic operators. He said the scheme sought to reward all compliant operators in the supply chain who meet the set criteria. He added that groundwork had been done and teams will be conducting stakeholder consultations and awareness workshops next month. “I would also want to urge the freight industry to embrace as a culture and operation ethos integrity, voluntary compliance, relevant competencies, and information technology.

“Missing these industry risks is being packed into the dustbin of history as you become irrelevant and classified as non-tariff barriers.” he said. Mr Kuzvinzwa added that ZIMRA was also in the process of putting in place a border agency single window through ASYCUDAworld. He said all border agencies would be connected to the workflow process through ASYCUDAworld to ensure that respective mandates are coordinated and streamlined.

“Discussions are at an advanced stage with other border agencies on the implementation of the single window and Beitbridge has been selected to pilot the programme with ZIMRA providing computer workstations at their respective offices,” he said.

Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

After much controversy centering on allegations of corruption and impropriety, the Federal Government terminated the contract awarded to Single Window Systems and Technology Limited. The contract which allowed for a sole submission point for importers and exporters to lodge their documentation was unilaterally awarded by the Federal Ministry of Finance, under the Umaru Yar Adua administration, on behalf of the Nigeria Customs Service to the company registered in June 2010 with N 1m share capital.

The contract was reported to be worth N 4.5 trillion. The decision to discontinue the contract was based on an investigation by the Ministry of Finance which looked into the processes and the terms of the contract. The investigation which was approved by the President revealed that the contract breached the provisions of both the Procurement Act and the ICRC Act. Nigerian Customs received a letter of notification from the supervisory of the ministry of finance that a concession agreement had been entered between the Federal government and the Single Window System Technologies Limited, so where did the customs come into play before the contract was signed?”

Nigeria Customs Service had earlier said on the controversy, “How can a company enter such an agreement without the knowledge of the Nigeria Customs Service?” The Customs was not involved in the execution of the agreement entered by the Federal Ministry of Finance through the Former Honourable Minister of Finance; Olusegun Aganga. Therefore Nigerian Customs was not carried along by the company called Single Window System Technologies Limited. The tender was scuppered.

Recently, the Nigerian Customs Service convened a Single Window National Stakeholder Conference under the slogan – “Collaboration -Towards a Facilitated Trade Environment”. The conference and workshop took place between 23 and 26 April 2012, and was attended by several local and international delegates representing UNECE, UN/CEFACT, and donor companies German Development Company (GIZ), USAID and Crown Agents. Details concerning the launch of this event can be accessed via the following links – Conference Website and Conference Summary Report.

Comment: So what started on shaky ground has finally materialised into a fully-fledged Customs-led programme – the way it should be, and hopefully remain. Moreover, trade representatives and intermediaries will need to be an integral part of this development for it to attain success.

Source: Business News Nigeria and Valentina Mintah (Trade Facilitation Consultant).

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FTW Online recently published an update on recent developments occurring along the Trans-Kalahari Corridor (TKC). It suggests that customs systems throughout the SADC region could soon be talking to each other through the Internet, if the pilot project between Namibia and Botswana is successful. During July 2011, the Southern African Trade Hub unveiled a plan to initiate a pilot programme to link the ASYCUDA systems of Namibia and Botswana via Microsoft’s Cloud Computing technology. Both Microsoft and USAID are partners in this initiative seeking to enable the two customs systems to communicate with each other through a secure portal. View the keynote presentation at the 2011 World Customs Organization IT Conference and Exhibition – Seattle, Ranga Munyaradzi (SATH) and Namibian Customs Commissioner, Bevan Simataa, were invited on-stage to elaborate on this initiative – click here!

According to Oscar Muyatwa, executive director of the Trans-Kalahari Corridor Secretariat, the initiative holds the prospect of opening up African opportunities in the United States for exports, as it is being supported by USAID as part of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). Both Namibian and Botswana Customs officials are to be trained in Cape Town over the next few months. The TKC Secretariat believe this initiative will bring about its vision of a ‘automated corridor’. Further ahead the TKCs envisages the establishment of One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) to reduce border dwell and transit times. Muyatwa says ‘The ‘cloud’ will maintain vast volumes of transit data that will assist future planning along the corridor as well as revenue and budgeting forecasts’. Source: FTW Online.

Comment: lest there be any confusion amongst Customs users, traders and carriers, the concept of cloud computing in the Customs sphere is very ‘clouded’ at this point. What needs to be considered is the ‘ownership’, rights to ‘access’ and ‘integrity of use’ of such information. Furthermore, as this is a first-of-its-kind initiative (in Africa at least); it would be highly recommended that the participants and developers ‘share’ details of the approach with other SACU members in order to better understand the programme. Up to this point it is very unclear how the developer has gone about the integration of customs information, for instance, since ‘users’ have not been fully involved in the scope, proof-of-concept or design of the system. 

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WCO-SACU IT Interconnectivity and Data Exchange Conference

On the occasion of International Customs Day, in January earlier this year, the World Customs Organisation dedicated 2012 as the year “Connectivity”, which encapsulates people connectivity, institutional connectivity and information connectivity among the members of the global Customs community.

Over the last week and a half delegates from the WCO, SACU, UNCTAD, SADC and COMESA have been hosted at SARS, Pretoria to discuss and deliberate over an approach to implement ‘IT connectivity’ within the Southern African region. During the first week representatives from UNCTAD, SACU and SARS were briefed on important developments at the WCO on IT-Interconnectivity and Information Exchange. We were privileged to have Mr. Satya Prasad Sahu, Technical officer from the WCO – a leading expert in all matters of ICT in international customs matters – present the developments towards finalisation of a future international customs standard called “Globally Networked Customs” (GNC). It entails a structured approach that will enable customs authorities to formulate and document bilateral or regional ‘standards’ on a variety of Customs-to-Customs topics, for instance Authorised Economic Operators, Cross Border Information Exchange, Risk Management, etc. A representative from UNCTAD presented a synopsis of the proposed ‘cloud computing solution’ which the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC) plans to pilot between Namibia and Botswana along the TKC route in the next few months. During the course of this week, delegates , under the guidance of Satya, prepared a proposed approach for information exchange between members of the Southern African Customs Region. This document is based on the GNC Utility Block structure (defined by the ad Hoc Committee on Globally Networked Customs at the WCO) and served as the basis for discussion for Week 2.

Mr. SP Sahu (WCO) and delegates from SACU SecretariatWeek 2 saw the arrival of customs and IT representatives from COMESA, SADC, UNCTAD, SACU as well as a delegation from Mozambique Customs. Mr. Sahu was invited to chair the session, given his vast experience on the subject matter as well as international experience in national and regional customs ICT programmes. Delegates were treated to various lectures on the GNC, a comprehensive overview of developments on ASYCUDA (Customs solution developed by UNCTAD), various updates from within the customs region – Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and SARS. Beyers Theron informed delegates of ongoing developments of the SARS Customs Modernisation Programme as well as key implications for neighbouring countries. SARS presented a live demonstration of SARS’ Service Manager solution, navigating through all the functionality now available to SARS Customs officials. Of significant interest to all was the new iPod inspection tool. This technology is given prominent feature in the latest edition of WCO News.

A large portion of the week was, however, spent on deliberating the proposed scope and content of the draft Utility Block on Information Exchange in the Southern African Region. Significant progress was been made to attain first, a common understanding of the scope as well as the implications this has for participating countries. Delegates will return home with a product with which to create awareness and solicit support in their respective countries. Over the next few months SARS will engage both SACU and SADCOM (combined SADC and COMESA trading blocs) to establish firm commitments for information exchange with customs administrations in these regions. This conference is significant for SARS and South Africa as a whole as it provides a uniform, standardised and practical approach for engagement with other international trading partners. To view photographs of the conference please click here!

SAD Story – Part 2

February 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

What is clear in regard to modern day business is the fact that ‘harmonisation’ in the international supply chain is essentially built around ‘data’. E-commerce has been around for decades, plagued by incompatibilities in messaging standards, and computer software, network and hardware architecture. However, one of the key inhibitors has been organisations and administrations having to adhere to domestic ‘dated’ legislation and so-called standard operating procedures – seemingly difficult to change, and worst of all suggesting that law has to adapt!

A lot has had to do with the means of information presentation (format) and conveyance (physical versus electronic) rather than the actual information itself. Standards such as the UN Layout key sought to standardise or align international trade and customs documentation with the view to simplifying cross-border trade and regulatory requirements. In other words, each international trade document being a logical ‘copy and augmentation’ of a preceding document.  This argument is still indeed valid. The generally accepted principle of Customs Administrations is to maximise its leverage of latent information in the supply chain and augment this with national (domestic) regulatory requirements – within a structured format.

The Single Administrative Document (SAD) was itself borne out of this need. The layout found acceptance with UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA which used it as a marketing tool (in the 1990’s) in promoting ‘What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get’ (WYSIWYG). It certainly provided a compelling argument for under-developed countries seeking first-time customs automation. Yet, the promise of compatibility with other systems and neighbouring customs administrations has not lived up to this promise.

Simultaneous to document harmonisation, we find development of the Customs data model, initially the work of the Group of 7 (G7) nations at the United Nations. Its mandate was to simplify and standardize Customs procedures Customs procedures. In 2002, the WCO took over this responsibility and after further refinement the G7 version became version 1 of the WCO Customs Data Model. Once more a logical progression lead to the inclusion of security and other government regulatory requirements. This has culminated in the recent release of WCO Data Model 3. Take note the word “Customs” is missing from the title, indicating that Version 3 gives effect to its culminating EDI message standard – Government Cross Border Regulatory (GOVCBR) message – an all inclusive message standard which proposes to accommodate ALL government regulatory reporting requirements.

Big deal! So what does this mean? The WCO’s intent behind GOVCBR is as follows –

  • Promoting safe and secure borders by establishing a common platform for regulatory data exchange enabling early sharing of information.
  • Helping co-operating export and import Customs to offer authorized traders end end-to to- end premium procedures and simple integrated treatment of the total transaction.
  • Contributing to rapid release.
  • Elimination redundant and repetitive data submitted by the carrier and the importer.
  • Reducing the amount of data required to be presented at time of release.
  • Reducing compliance costs.
  • Promoting greater Customs Co-operation.

Undertaking such development is no simple matter, although a decision in this direction is a no brainer! Over a decade’s work in the EDI space in South Africa is certainly not lost. Most of the trade’s electronic goods declaration and cargo reporting requirements remain intact, all be they require re-alignment to meet Data Model 3 standard. Over and above this, the matter of government regulatory requirements (permits, certificates, prohibitions and restrictions, letters of authority, etc.) will require more ‘political will’ to ensure that all authorities administering regulations over the importation and exportation of goods are brought into the ‘electronic space’. Some traction is already evident here largely thanks to ITAC and SA Reserve Bank willingness and capability to collaborate. In time all remaining authorities will be brought on board to ensure a true ‘paperless’ clearance process.

So, I digress somewhat from the discussion on the SAD. However, the bottom line for all customs and border authorities, traders and intermediaries is that ‘harmonisation’ of the supply chain operation follows the principal and secondary data required to administer ALL controls via a process of risk assessment, to facilitate release including any intervention required to ensure the compliance of import and export goods. As such even legislative requirements need to enable ‘harmonisation’ to occur otherwise we end up with a non-tariff barrier, uncertainty in decision-making, and a business community unable to capitalise on regional and international market opportunities. Positively, the draft SA Customs Control Bill makes abundant reference to reporting – of the electronic kind.

In Part 3, I will discuss regional ‘integration’ and the desire for end-to-end transit clearance harmonisation.

SAD story – Part 1

February 16, 2012 — 4 Comments

Die-hard SAD fan! (Tammy Joubert)We all suffer a little nostalgia at one or other point in our lives. Those die-hard legacy officials – the kind who have more than 20 years service – will most definitely have suffered, recoiled, and even repelled mass change which has occurred in the last 10-15 years in South Africa.  In the mid-2000’s the advent and replacement of the tried and tested DA500/600 series customs declaration forms by the Single Administrative Document – better known as the SAD – was unpopular to most customs officers although it was possibly welcomed by SACU cross-border traders.

A political coup had been won by some BLNS states compelling South Africa to harmonise its declaration requirements with those of fellow members, especially those operating ASYCUDA. At the time, SARS saw this compromise necessary to bring about alignment with Namibia and Botswana to facilitate the implementation of a new customs clearance dispensation for the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC).

The SAD is almost universally accepted by virtue of its design according to the UN Layout Key. However, why the fuss. A form is a form. Allied industry in RSA were used to the three decade old DA500/600 declaration forms which were designed infinitely better and more logical than the SAD.

None-the-less, South Africans are adaptable and accommodating to change. Following on from my recent post “SACU now a liability” it is now the SAD’s turn to stare death in the face. As it turns out, through wave upon wave of technological advances, we no longer need the SAD. At least in its paper form. In SARS case it no longer needs the SAD – period. A newer derivative (strangely not too dissimilar to the DA500/600) has now gained favour. It is known as the Customs Declaration 1 (Form CD1). However, unlike the DA and SAD forms, the CD1 will most likely never be required in printed format owing to SARS Customs preference for digitized information. Needless to say, if nothing else, the CD1 will provide a graphic representation of the EDI CUSDEC data for the customs officer. Next time, I’ll discuss the rationale behind ‘customs harmonisation’ and its non-dependency on document format. I feel for the die-hard SAD fan!