THE Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) has called on traders using the Maseru Bridge border post to exercise patience amid challenges in the rolling out of the Asycuda customs border control system.
This was said by LRA Chief Planning and Modernisation Officer Idia Penane during a media briefing on Tuesday in Maseru. She said it had come to the tax authority’s attention that there were many delays in clearing goods following the introduction of the Asycuda World System at the border post,.
The Asycuda World System is a computer-based programme for administering customs systems. It was piloted in Lesotho last August at Maputsoe border post as part of the LRA’s broader Customs Modernisation Programme meant to simplify the clearing processes and reducing the costs of doing business at the border.
The system, which also entails non-intrusive methods of inspections such as the use of X-ray to scan goods and baggage at both the border and airport, was launched in Maseru in August.
Ms Penane said the automation of customs systems was meant to make it easier for the country to determine the value of its exports and imports. It would also enable a faster clearing cycle with online pre-clearance which would reduce the time spent at the borders by traders and their goods.
“The LRA introduced the automation process as part of an initiative to improve services offered to the taxpayer through standardised processes and procedures to efficiently facilitate trade, collect tax and make sound recommendations to government with regard to tax,” Ms Penane said.
“Ideally, under the system, a trader fills out a clearance form prior to reaching the border and then proceeds to cross on condition the information on the tax clearance corresponds with the goods they are carrying.
“When it came to applying the system in Maseru, however, we have encountered challenges emanating from the introduction of technology into a system that had been wholly manual over the years.”
She said traders were unable to access clearance forms online and forced to start the process at the border.
“The problem with that, however, is that since we no longer clear manually, it takes longer for agents to fill in the required information at the border because all the information has to be verified,” noted Ms Penane.
“Many traders have had to return to the Maseru Bridge border post because the import payment did not correspond with the invoice. As we are trying out this system, we ask for the business community to exercise some patience and also to make sure the information they bring is correct.”
She said the LRA was working towards rectifying the challenges by training agents and launching refresher courses for their staff.
“LRA has left the advance clearance to independent individuals or agents to whom we offer training. We also need to offer refresher training to those agents as well as capacitating our staff if need be to ensure they can properly execute their duties. There is also a need to extend our programmes to other stakeholders so they can better understand the Asycuda process,” Ms Penane said.
“We are also trying to offer different services for various businesses so that small businesses do not have to queue for the same amount of time as large businesses for instance.
“It is possible to declare online, but sometimes we face inherent challenges that come with the switch to technology. At such times, people should call our helpline on 52215111 or 52215112. Alternatively they could email us on email@example.com.”
She said the system was beneficial in the long run since it would reduce tax evasion and other malpractices at the border resulting in more revenue collection at the border.
“With the declining Southern African Customs Union revenues Lesotho has been benefitting from, the country now has to find more resourceful means of collecting tax and our borders have been the weakest link in that regard,” added Ms Penane.
“The new inspections will reduce the levels of corruption at the border as well. In the past, customers used to complain that it would take too long to be issued with a release form after inspection. A lot of people were compelled to pay bribes for a faster service. But now, with the modernised non-intrusive inspections done through mobile scanners, there is no need to off-load goods as inspection would be instant.”