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LRA seizes multi-million maloti contraband

This is the biggest single bust of illicit cigarettes in five years

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) recently scored a huge victory in its war against smuggling with the seizure of M1, 1 million worth of cigarettes at the Maseru border gate.

This is the biggest single bust of illicit cigarettes in five years that the LRA has made as the tax authorities steps up its quest to ensure fight crime and meet its revenue collection targets.

In a statement to the Sunday Express, the LRA said the contraband, which was seized on Thursday night, consisted of 38 boxes of RG cigarettes containing 380 thousand sticks worth M1 140 000.

The LRA further said that the bust was achieved as “part of the Authority’s routine checks on compliance of tobacco and tobacco products in Lesotho”.

The routines checks are part of LRA’s compliance strategy to deter non-compliance. Similar consignments of lesser quantities and value have been confiscated before and destroyed by the LRA.

“This is biggest single bust on illicit cigarettes in Lesotho in the past five years. The cigarettes that were confiscated were smuggled by hawkers and they were not declared or even paid the excise duties due.

“The RG is an illicit cigarette as it is usually sold below M20 threshold for a packet of cigarettes. These illicit cigarettes usually compete in the market with cigarettes that have been declared and paid duties upon importation into Lesotho. The LRA pleads with all traders and individuals to cease from importing illicit goods into Lesotho.

Commenting further on the developments, the LRA’s Anti-smuggling Manager, Retšelisitsoe Mokitimi, recently told this publication that the LRA will soon hold closed doors meetings with hawkers whose contraband was seized by the authority.

Mr Mokitimi said the meeting was aimed at addressing issues of non-compliance with regulations regarding the importation of the goods into the country.

“No one has been arrested (in connection with the smuggled goods). However, they (the hawkers) are not going to disappear on us. They will have a meeting with us with this issue as they are our everyday customers,” Mr Mokitimi said.

In line with the LRA’s policy to assist its clients to comply with the regulations, Mr Mokitimi said the taxman encourages clients to be honest and avail information so that they can address the matter at hand.

The LRA has already indicated that it is changing its approach from heavy-handedness to being friendlier to the taxpayers to encourage tax compliance.

In the 2016/17 financial year, the authority missed its target by M430 million which translates to a 6.4 percent shortfall while in 2017/18, the revenue gap increased to M607 million which translates to a 9.2 percent deficit.

Non- compliance was cited as one of the major causes for the LRA’s failure to meet its target in the 2016/17 and 2017/2019 financial years.

LRA Commissioner General Thabo Khasipe has previously said that the organisation would launch several initiatives to remind the public about their tax obligations.

One such initiative is the Voluntary Disclosure Programme which was introduced in April this year to encourage past defaulters to comply with their tax obligations without penalties and prosecution.

This was soon followed by the Simplified Business Tax (SBT) initiative, which sought to make it easier for the smaller enterprises to pay tax.

The new client-friendly approach has continued alongside traditional methods of patrols and vigilance which have also yielded results in the fight against smuggling.

Last week the LRA reported that it foiled an attempt to smuggle red meat worth M24 000 at the Calendonspoort Border gate in Butha-Buthe.

LRA public relations manager Pheello Mphana this week told the Lesotho Times that a company, whose identity the LRA has decided to withhold, attempted to smuggle the meat by hiding in a truck that was transporting processed meat into Lesotho.

Mr Mphana said they seized the meat consignment after it was detected by LRA scanners at the border gate. He said the discovery of the contraband proved that that the LRA scanners were functional and would-be smugglers would always be caught out.

Mr Mphana spoke to the Lesotho Times in the wake of recent allegations by the managing director of Meraka Abattoir, Mosito Khethisa, that there were mining companies that bought meat that had been smuggled into Lesotho by some South African companies.

The mining companies however, flatly denied the allegations. Early this year, the government banned the importation of red meat into the country in a move it said was aimed at capacitating the local meat industry.

The move was however, met with criticism, with the opposition accusing the government of enacting the ban to ensure that Lesotho’s only abattoir, Meraka, enjoys an unfettered monopoly as the sole importer and supplier of red meat in Lesotho.

Meraka Abattoir however, refutes these allegations and in a recent interview with this publication, Mr Khethisa said the abattoir’s business had suffered due to the smuggling of red meat into the country by South African suppliers.

Mr Khethisa sensationally claimed that the three diamond mining companies were being supplied with smuggled red meat.  He made the allegations in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication.

He said that the criminal acts by the South African suppliers, who mostly used the Calendonspoort Border Gate in Butha-Buthe, had seriously affected his company’s viability.

“We have had a case of red meat smuggling into the country and it was by a company whose name we cannot disclose because of confidentiality issues. But the red meat was hidden within packages of processed meats (which can be imported into Lesotho). Our scanners picked it…and I can confirm that we recently seized red meat worth M24 000 in Butha-Buthe,” Mr Mphana recently said.





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