BY REX MPHISA
FREIGHT shipping and forwarding agents have reverted to manual clearing after the Customs and Excise Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) failed to convert recently introduced duty regimes, NewsDay can reveal.
Others are also moving goods in bond to cities of their destinations to avoid congestion at the various ports handling goods from outside the country.
Manual clearing is physical completion of documents by pen, an old system abandoned when the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) introduced e-clearing.
This is despite Zimra’s denial this week that it was experiencing challenges due to the new duty regimes following the devaluation of the real time gross settlement (RTGS) dollar.
As a result duties went up by 250%, but the Customs and Excise system has been failing to acknowledge the change delaying the clearing of both domestic imports and goods in transit where Zimra holds prepaid duty.
Following the latest development, Customs and Excise offices at the country’s various ports failed to process imports and goods in transit.
At Beitbridge, trucks remained on the South African side as a solution was sought.
Chief executive of the Shipping and Freight Forwarders’ Association Joseph Musariri said the Customs and Excise system was accepting documents, albeit slowly.
“Zimra is sorting out the problem. It’s slowly accepting documents,” he said, much to the anger of several shipping agents who accused him of not presenting the proper picture on the ground.
“Is he for our interests or that of Zimra or for the truth? Has he been on the ground to see the problems we are having? Is he aware we pay his salary and he is not telling the truth,” queried a shipping agent at Beitbridge.
Asked if what he was saying was reflective of the situation on the ground, Musariri lost his temper and became hostile.
Head of Zimra corporate communications Francis Chimanda, said everything was in order.
“The system is configured to handle both RTGS dollars and nostro accounts. Please note that reference to nostro account means other foreign currencies. The system is operating as configured,” he said.
“We have not received any complaints or evidence of the delay in processing the import and export traffic. Please be advised that Zimra has the business continuity plans whenever we experience system challenge,” he said in response to whether the system challenge was delaying movement of goods.
He, however, said his organisation was not responsible for the introduction of new tariffs which caught Customs and Excise by surprise before they had upgraded Asycuda to capture the new tariffs.
“Zimra is not responsible for policy changes and Zimra is there to implement those changes when announced or when enacted just as we have successfully done,” Chimanda said.
Government recently conceded the RTGS currency was far below the US dollar and adjusted fuel and Customs and Excise duties in tandem with the US dollar.
In turn, Zimra implemented the new development on March 1, 2019.
Freight and shipping agents pay Zimra upfront in monies held in bond deducted as and when a shipment is cleared.
The same applies for clearance of goods in transit.
Shipping and Freight Forwarders have also said the delays in the processing of goods affected transport charges when hauliers effected demurrage charges on final invoices.
“Sadly this is further passed on to the consumer. Consumers bear the brunt of poor and slow decision making,” said an agent who declined to be named.
Chimanda said Zimra had nothing to do with demurrage.
“Demurrage charges are a prerogative of transporters and to our understanding, it is contractual to the owners of the goods being conveyed. Our systems are providing the services required without any challenges,” he said.
Chimanda said despite the developments, perishables are given special treatment on clearance by prioritising the processing of documents regardless of the time they are submitted and it is the duty of the clearing agent to request for such special treatment.
Zimbabwe has been reeling from economic hardships blamed on years of misrule, recurrent droughts, heavy imports, poor production and the death of the agricultural sector, among others.