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System upgrade by the country’s tax collector faltered, hampering goods clearance and triggering panic over potentially huge losses by industry and commerce.

EXPORT and import trading ground to a halt this week after a system upgrade by the country’s tax collector faltered, hampering goods clearance and triggering panic over potentially huge losses by industry and commerce.

The situation compounded an already dire situation under which distressed firms were reportedly haemorrhaging from costs incurred from delays at the country’s borders, which they blamed on the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA).

Sources in industry said importers could incur losses running into millions of dollars from the current glitch, with the most affected being those who had imported perishable products.

Exporters could also fail to meet supply deadlines, possibly hurting their reputation with clients.

Information obtained this week indicates that ZIMRA had upgraded its Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) to a higher version which runs on Java 6 software.

The upgrade is said to have suffered glitches on the day it was implemented, affecting the entire clearance system and consequently grounding business to a halt.

By yesterday, the system was still having serious operational challenges, sources said.

“I can confirm that ZIMRA operations have been crippled. Since Saturday, the ZIMRA Asycuda system has been down, crippling import trading. This has affected the whole country,” a senior officer with a busy clearing agency told the Financial Gazette.

Sources within the industry said the situation this week was dismal and expressed disappointment over ZIMRA officials whom they said appeared unmoved by the tragedy.

“The officers don’t seem concerned by the impact this is having on customers,” one clearing agent said, noting that they had been called for a workshop on Wednesday last week at which ZIMRA announced the upgrade.

But he remarked: “There was no fallback position. It looks like they embarked on this upgrade without completing the migration set-up.”

Others said ZIMRA officials were refusing to entertain manual clearing of goods to alleviate the burden on importers, who were incurring huge storage bills as well as losing sales for goods currently held pending clearance.

They said importers of perishable goods were being authorised to clear under what is called a report order, whereby goods are conditionally released from customs custody and formally cleared later at a given port of entry only after raising complaints with senior officials.

“Apparently, the airport cargo handling companies are going to make a big killing in storage. ZIMRA is unfazed by this,” said an importer whose goods were stuck at Harare International Airport.

ZIMRA did not respond to questions sent to them by the Financial Gazette but instead prepared a press statement in which they said measures were now “in place at all ports of entry and exit to facilitate smooth movement of cargo and reduce inconveniences to our valued clients”.

“ZIMRA, therefore, urges its clients to approach their respective station managers for any challenges they may encounter in the movement of their cargo during this transitional period,” the statement said, acknowledging that the upgrade had “faced some technical challenges”.

“The authority is currently in the process of rectifying these challenges for normal online transactions to continue,” said ZIMRA.

Asycuda is a system designed to help countries automate customs processes on the import and export of goods and compile accurate trade statistics. The Asycuda system has been adopted as the official customs computer system in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa region, a free trade area with 20 member states stretching from Libya to South Africa, and is being used by 19 member states.

ZIMRA started using the Asycuda system for all commercial transactions between 1991 and 1992.

The revenue collector migrated to Ayscuda World in 2011. During that upgrade, no commercial clearances were being done, which subsequently resulted in a backlog that significantly disrupted clearing agents’ operations as well as the business of importers.

Two months ago, the Financial Gazette reported that there were delays at the country’s ports of entry caused by the revenue collector’s centralised declaration system under which bill of entry documents were no longer processed at border posts.

Instead the documents are now being processed in Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo. These are the three centres that clear passage of vehicle at the borders.

The borders are linked to the three centres by a telecommunications system provided by two mobile telecommunications firms.

But the clearing process experiences problems because the bandwidth provided by the two telecommunications service providers is said to be always down, delaying trucks at the border posts.

As a result, cargo trucks are said to wait for clearance at the border for days, resulting in companies losing millions of dollars, much of which went into demurrage fees charged by cargo shipment firms.

Source : Financial Gazette

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