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COVID-19 Hits BURS Border Collections

GOITSEMODIMO KAELO
Finance Minister Thapelo Matsheka addressing BURS employees PIC: KENNEDY RAMOKONE
Just before the coronavirus hit Southern Africa and indeed Botswana, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) pledged to do more and collect more taxes.

One of their main concerns was under- valuation and failure to declare goods at borders. The situation has since hit the ceiling during the COVID- 19 period as businesses take advantage of the pandemic to cross with minimal screening.

“The situation at the borders is very bad and the country is losing millions of pula that could be collected. This has come to light through BURS seizing dozens of various goods that had already made it into the country. The Investigations unit has been working overtime because they always catch wrong doers. You can imagine how many others who did not declare properly but were not caught,” a source said.

It is further alleged the poor systems for searching at borders led to senior officials from BURS being summoned by the President to discuss the issue.

Customs officials at the Tlokweng Border Post on Friday expressed concern over the increasing cases of under-declaration of goods by businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

When goods (including currency) are imported into the country, they must immediately be declared to customs to be subjected to any payment of customs duties and taxes or to any prohibitions or restrictions prior to importation.

Botswana is heavily dependent on South Africa for crucial imports that include food, medicine, fuel, machinery and household consumables. Whilst movement of people across the border has been curtailed during COVID-19, there has been cross-border movement of trucks carrying imported goods into the country, Tlokweng Border Post being amongst the busiest.

During a visit to the Tlokweng Border by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Thapelo Matsheka on Friday, customs manager, Catherine Lephojane said they have realised increased cases of under-declaration.

Lephojane stated that while customs officials have maintained their duty in ensuring compliance with the

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customs law in connection with the clearance of the goods, some businesses have taken advantage of the fact that it is not easy to do thorough assessment due to the COVID-19 scare.

“Businesses are now taking advantage of COVID-19 and do not declare all their goods. We record high movement of double trailer trucks crossing everyday, but our collection does not match that. Then we realised that there is a mismatch in revenue collection and what we see passing. Businesses are doing a lot of valuation to avoid paying customs duty,” Lephojane said.

Lephojane added they have registered a few cases of under-valuation in the recent past. She noted that while they have not tested the magnitude of the situation, the trend seems to be growing in a worrisome rate. She urged businesses to clear their goods in advance to avoid this situation.

“Our scanners cannot detect under-valuation, so it is advisable that businesses clear their goods in advance than to say ‘we will do it at the border’,” she said.

Lephojane also said the situation has in some cases been fuelled by shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Meanwhile, minister Matsheka said BURS would introduce new reforms post-COVID-19 in an effort to fast-track economic recovery. He said there is need for customs to adopt the use of technology to enhance efficiency.

He said Tlokweng Border Post is the country’s main entry point, handling 90% volume of business as such its importance could not be ignored.

“I will work closely with BURS and the management of this border to monitor its performance and bottlenecks. We want to open it up for trade with better infrastructure,” Matsheka said.

He also urged customs officials to ‘soldier on’ under the current circumstances to sustain the bruised economy.



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