The Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) has embarked on a process to amend the Customs and Excise Duty Act with a view to lower costs associated with import and export of goods.
According to BURS commissioner responsible for customs and excise, Philiso Phodiso Valashia, the process of consulting public and private sector stakeholders on the zero-draft commenced this week and is expected to be concluded on April 20, whereupon drafting instructions for a Customs Bill will be issued to the Attorney General.
Valashia explained that the restructuring of the customs and excise legislation would increase the competitiveness of local goods in the global markets, while also lowering the costs of goods to local producers and consumers.
“This will be achieved through the introduction of clearer and simple customs requirements and elimination of procedures that cause delays in the release and clearance processes,” he explained.
Valashia said the main objective of the conversion is to modernise, simplify and harmonise customs processes around the world to facilitate more efficient international trade in goods whilst reinforcing the capability to combat cross-border crime.
The Customs and Excise Duty Act, was written in 1964 to cater for cross-border movement of goods at the time. Then, the main focus of the law was on control of goods and those who ferry them across Botswana borders as opposed to being facilitative.
The commissioner said although the Act was amended over the years to keep pace with new customs and excise approaches and to soften and modernise the customs system in Botswana, the general tone of the Act, to a large extent, still reflects a strong undercurrent of rigidity reminiscent of the era in which it was written.
“As such it is not necessarily suitable to serve as a vehicle for implementing a modern system of customs service in accordance with current international trends and best practice,” he said.
Valashia also pointed out that the archaic nature of the Customs and Excise Duty Act is largely responsible for Botswana being ranked number 158 out of 189 countries by the 2014 World Bank Doing Business Report on the “trading across borders” criterion, a rating that he said has adverse effects on Botswana’s ability to attract and retain investment.
The commissioner also pointed out the tremendous increase in international trade volumes over the years has inadvertently increased opportunities for cross-border and trans-national crimes, such as smuggling of goods, human trafficking and importation of prohibited and restricted goods, including illicit trade of endangered species.
He noted that the proposed legislative amendments are aimed at strengthening the capacity of BURS to combat these and other illegal cross-border activities, as well as enhancing the ability of the revenue service to collect public revenue.
Following a Southern African Customs Union (SACU) customs legislative review process in which all the member states participated, the SACU Council of Ministers is understood to have agreed that a new customs legislative framework should be developed consisting of three separate pieces of legislation that would eventually replace the Customs and Excise Duty Act. These pieces are the Customs Control Act that establishes a customs control system for all goods imported into or exported from Botswana and that prescribes the operational aspects of the system, the Customs Duty Act, that provides for the imposition, assessment and collection of customs duties, and the Excise Duty Act that provides for the imposition, assessment and collection of excise duties.
Subsequently, in 2013 Botswana cabinet authorised implementation of the SACU council’s decision and in December 2013, BURS with the support of the World Customs Organisation – SIDA and the USAID Southern African Trade Hub, then secured the services of Patricia McCauley to develop a zero-draft of a new Customs Bill. McCauley is an international customs expert who, at some time, was engaged by the World Customs Organisation to review the Revised Kyoto Convention. The zero-draft was produced in April 2014 and work on it commenced until a layman’s draft of a Customs Bill was produced on February 13 this year.