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Sars to ease border crisis

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — Long queues and general congestion at the Maseru Bridge border post will soon be eased by a new electronic customs clearing programme aimed at ensuring the speedy movement of goods trucks.
The new system called the Customs Modernisation Programme was launched by the South African Revenue Services (Sars) yesterday and will ensure faster movement of trucks that normally form long queues at the border post while awaiting clearance formalities.
The new electronic programme, according to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA), replaces the manual stamping of paperwork which normally cause the long queues on the South African side of the border as individual truck drivers await their turn to get their papers processed.
The programme will also use electronic means to assess customs declaration risks.
“Sars customs modernisation introduces the principles of electronic processing of customs declarations coupled with automated risk assessments to differentiate between low-risk and high-risk trade,” said a press release from the LRA.
“These changes are aimed at facilitating trade by speeding up the movement of trucks through the border posts, replacing stamps and paper with electronic processing and using resources more effectively by centralising declaration processing.”
The first commercial vehicle to be cleared under the new programme was expected to be released just after 3pm yesterday.
However, for the system to work effectively, traders are required to post the necessary documentation upfront.
“To this end, traders and licensed agents at Maseru Bridge are being asked to ensure that goods are cleared before entry at the border (both imports and exports) and relevant manifests are completed as truck drivers will only be allowed entrance once fully compliant with requirements,” said Sars in a statement.
This new programme will at this stage only apply to cargo declarations.
It will be extended to passenger processing and private shoppers at a later stage, said the LRA.
The electronic declarations will have to be made by clearing agents registered with Sars.
With the new system in place, the deferment account procedure will also no longer be in use for exports to South Africa.
Sars will issue a notification to the trader or clearing agent that the goods can be moved to the border area for import or export purposes.
It is only after the notification is granted that the goods can then be presented at the border.
This is meant to reduce congestion at the border and also to have goods that only require defined customs procedures to be performed on them.
The LRA said the new programme would harmonise customs processes between RSA and Lesotho, to build a common approach towards trade management and also to have joint customs controls at the borders.
Lesotho is also in the process of acquiring a system that would operate at the same level as the new programme introduced by Sars to assist in the harmonisation effort.
Currently Lesotho is still using manual declaration processes at the borders which make it difficult to have similar approaches and processes as Sars at this stage.
The introduction of the programme at the Maseru Border Post comes after its first phase was installed at Qacha’s Nek and Caledonspoort border posts on April 18.
Starting from April 21 no cargo is allowed through the Qacha’s Nek and Caledonspoort borders without having been declared electronically.
To address challenges that may arise as a result of this change, Lesotho and South Africa are currently engaged in a project to improve trade facilitation.

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