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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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East%20Africa%20mapIn the spirit of stronger East African integration, the revenue authorities of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have started preparations for the implementation of a Single Customs Territory. The Commissioners’ General of the three East African countries deliberated on the mechanisms to operationalize the decisions of the heads of state who have continuously called for its fast tracking.

On June 25, 2013 at the Entebbe State House in Uganda, a Tripartite Summit involving the three heads of state issued a joint communiqué directing among other things the collection of customs duties by Uganda and Rwanda before goods are released from Mombasa. The leaders also agreed that traders with goods destined for warehousing should continue executing the general bond security.

During the meeting, the Commissioners’ General of the three countries put in place joint technical committees on ICT, Business Process, enforcement, change management, legal and human resource to discuss the implementation road map.

In a statement signed by the three Commissioners’ General, they said that the development of a Single Customs Territory will positively impact on the trading activities of the three countries as it will ensure that assessment and collection of taxes is done at the country of destination before cargo moves out of the port.

“As a result, the East African Community Customs Union will join the ranks of other Customs Union such as South African Customs Union and the European Union among others. Under this arrangement, restrictive regulations are eliminated as the corridor is now considered for customs purposes. For clarity, circulation of goods will happen with no or minimal border controls,” reads the statement in part.

Kenya said it would cut red tape holding up millions of dollars of imports into its landlocked neighbours Rwanda and Uganda, by letting the countries collect customs on goods as they arrive in its port at Mombasa. Goods can currently face long delays as agents process the paperwork to release cargoes from warehouses at east Africa’s biggest port, and later make separate arrangements to pay import duties at Kenya’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

Officials said the new system, due to be introduced in August, would clear inefficiencies and blockages seen as a major barrier to trade in the region. But clearing agents in Kenya said it could also cost thousands of jobs in warehouses, freight firms and almost 700 clearing and forwarding companies operating in the country.

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, together with Burundi and Tanzania, are members of the regional East African Community trade bloc, with a joint gross domestic product of $85 billion.

Kenyan tax officials said the new system would allow a “seamless flow of goods” and make it easier to stop goods getting through the system without customs payments. “Once cleared at the port, there will be no stoppages at borders and checkpoints along the corridor,” the Kenya Revenue Authority’s commissioner of customs, Beatrice Memo, told a news conference.

Under the system, Rwandan and Ugandan clearing agents and customs officials would be able to set up their own offices to clear cargo and collect taxes directly at the port. The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association said that meant up to half a million jobs could be lost to Uganda and Rwanda. “The Government has not consulted us … and we totally reject it,” said  Association chairman Boaz Makomere. Sources: East African Business Week (Kenya) & The New Vision (Uganda).