Pretoria – Importers and exporters attempting to thwart the processes at border posts will come unstuck against the customs monitoring system that the South African Revenue Service (Sars) is introducing.
The system has come a long way since the late 1990s, when it could take seven weeks to handle documentation for one shipment.
By means of electronic submission this process can now be completed within 30 minutes and a new international customs system installed at all the border posts of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) has cut the average cargo processing time down from five hours to 25 minutes.
A crucial part of the new customs process is a properly automated risk-management system that forms the core of the new system, which integrates information from various state departments and agencies, says Rae Cruikshank, customs operations group executive at SARS.
The “risk engine” largely obviates human intervention leading to consignment hold-ups, and it simultaneously reduces the potential for inappropriate interference and corruption on the part of customs officials.
The Sars officials thus no longer do the risk assessment. The risk engine does the job. When the automated process is complete, the inspector at the border post can decide whether the shipment needs closer inspection, based on information provided by the engine.
Before a consignment leaves for a border post, all cargo information is submitted to the SARS website, payment is made and approval received.
The risk engine will register possible risks related to the consignment concerned (imports or exports), but the client will receive the message that it can proceed to the border post.
The driver of the vehicle carrying the goods then receives a single document to hand in at the border post. No consignment without this document will be allowed through.
At the border-post gate two forms and a barcode are issued containing information about the cargo.
At the exit point the barcode is scanned to confirm whether the freight and the driver have been through all the processes. If there is any risk, the vehicle will be allowed to go through to a security area of the border post where further checks can be made.
According to Cruikshank Sars is so far the only agency in the world that has equipped its officials with iPads. They can use them to send information and photographs of the freight they are inspecting to the central system.
The pictures can serve as evidence in subsequent investigations or be sent to one of four central offices in the country. Risk analysts can give feedback about the contents of the consignment within 30 minutes.
Cruikshank says since the system was introduced there has been a discernible decline in the number of importers and exporters attempting to circumvent the system.
It is hoped that the Sars system at all border posts and ports will be replaced next year by a single, integrated processing system.
It will verify a person’s information and tariff headings, and calculate the appropriate taxes.
By the beginning of next year there will probably also be a new service available for Sars’s preferred clients.
These clients will be audited in advance and have various benefits, such as recognition by all countries that have the World Trade Organisation status of authorised economic operator. It will make importing and exporting seamless.
The South African Revenue Service is the first customs agency in the world that has equipped its border post officials with iPads and iPhones so they can work more efficiently.
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