With much talk of intra-African trade, perhaps its a good time to consider increased collaboration between customs administrations regarding modernisation initiatives. It helps little for trade if the system only works on one side of the border. The case in point demonstrates a painful realization of too little mediation with stakeholders.
THE Zimbabwe Revenue Authority‘s introduction of the latest version of an automated customs clearance management system has brought industry to its knees as goods in transit are stuck at the country’s ports. The system challenges at Zimbabwe’s ports is particularly worrisome for importers as the majority are set to close shop today for the festive season. ASYCUDA is an acronym for Automated System for Customs Data, an automated customs clearance management system.
The Shipping and Forwarding Agents’ Association of Zimbabwe (Sfaaz) held a crisis meeting in Harare, where they intended to engage the Ministry of Finance and Zimra officials who had been invited. Ministry of Finance and Zimra officials were, however, conspicuous by their absence. Sfaaz chairman Mr Phanuel Gukwe said the system, whose implementation commenced in October, had significantly slowed down clearance procedures. “There is perennial breakdown of operations at most ports, which means no imports are coming out of Zimra, funds are locked in prepayment accounts and turnaround of bill of entries is taking up to two weeks instead of the normal three hours.
“Contrary to expectations when Zimra proposed the system, the situation at ports has worsened drastically,” he said. The situation at the country’s ports, which is now in its third month, might have implications on the revenue collection targets for the fourth quarter, especially in terms of excise duty, import duty and customs tax.
Questions sent to Zimra were unanswered by the time of publication yesterday. 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. Currently, Zimra is rolling out ASYCUDA World version 4.0.21 to over 14 stations.
Mr Gukwe said Zimra had ignored the association’s earlier proposal to stagger the implementation of the new system. “We had proposed to Zimra to follow the example of South Africa, which undertook to implement the system at limited ports at a time, but they rather chose to go wholesale. Zimra also ignored us when we pressed them for a fallback system to be put in place,” he said.
The Wednesday crisis meeting, that was emotionally charged, saw importers level a range of accusations against Zimra. Some said Zimra had only two examining officers at some border posts, which means the slow clearance was an issue not just of failure in connectivity but also manpower shortages. It was also observed that when clients of local importers called Zimra to find out about the system challenges, Zimra officials were telling them that problems with the system had since been rectified, a situation that was portraying the local importers in bad light.
“I do not think it is legal for Zimra officials to be discussing these matters with our clients, they should only communicate with those who put in the bill of entry,” said one Sfaaz member. Others accused Zimra for being nonchalant. “Zimra should be taking responsibility on this matter. They could have at least eased our plight by arranging for the reduction or waiving of storage fees. We are paying some serious money for storage for weeks on end, which is driving up our landing costs,” said an importer.
Observers warn that if the problem continues, it could have wider repercussions on the economy, which is still a net importer of most goods. Meanwhile, Sfaaz officials were yesterday engaged in a closed door meeting with top Zimra officials over the matter. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)