The SA Revenue Service’s (Sars) decision to revert to email verification of release notifications in a bid to combat illicit trade in the clothing, textile, footwear and leather (CTFL) goods industry has come in for criticism from a leading forwarding and clearing agent.
The logistics service provider, who asked not to be named, said it was understandable why Sars would want notifications to be emailed to customs officers so that they could authenticate release documents.
However, it also represented a regrettable retreat into old-fashioned clearing methodologies, he said.
“The reasons are valid but the method is more than questionable.
“The process referred to (read yesterday’s related post: “Sars takes decisive action to combat illicit trade in clothing and textile sector” – https://tinyurl.com/y5tck5e3) relates to manual interventions which should be done away with for a start as they are time consuming, labour intensive and extremely costly to importers.”
As a basis for questioning why Sars is reverting to what is perceived as cumbersome verification, he noted that it should be borne in mind that the customs authority had invested heavily in electronic data interchange and risk management systems.
“So why are we discussing manual processes which take days, even weeks, to finalise?
“Manual interventions are normally initiated via the ship’s manifest which, by customs’ own admission, does not contain sufficient information for risk analysis.
“Secondly, industry has only just achieved success in taking control of stopped and or detained containers away from the shipping lines, which will drastically reduce costs.”
The decision that had now been taken that “officers will respond in writing, confirming whether the relevant customs release notification is authentic and whether release may be granted to the importer”, as was reported yesterday, merely played into the hands of ocean carriers and storage concerns, the agent said.
“The lines, as well as container depots, who are private companies and in competition with each other, have been given yet another opportunity to ‘print money’ to the detriment of legitimate traders.”
He emphasised that although customs had said email authentication shouldn’t take longer than four hours, delays were inevitable.
The possibility of slowed clearing and subsequent storage happening over weekends and public holidays now that another potential snag had been introduced into the clearing process, meant “lines and depots will only see dollar signs”, the agent said.
“Not every importer in this particular industry sector is trying to defraud the fiscus but everyone will now suffer increased costs due to an inefficient process introduced by customs whose mandate is to facilitate trade.
“Taking into account Sars’ Customs Modernisation Programme and that we are in 2020 in a 4th Industrial Revolution, why does customs find it necessary to insist on manually authenticating a release document issued electronically by their own system?
“Will customs penalise the shipping lines and depots for non compliance? Who does the importer hold liable for delays in delivery and additional costs? This initiative surely cannot be accepted in its current format.”