Jul 22 , 2023

Customs offices across the country are compelled to start sudden inspection procedures through a new manual which is expected to help in bringing check and balance between traders and officers.

Spearheaded by the Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs Mulugeta Beyene, the system is designed with hopes of filling the gaps in service provision that are created in the absence of a formal operation manual.

It compiles risk profiles utilising the identity of the importer, clearing agent and transit officer, along with the nature and origin of the goods from the customer service and intelligence departments.

Mulugeta cited the fraud conducted in cahoots with customs officers or affiliated agencies for the creation of a manual that is the first of its kind. He hopes to bring accountability between the departments by integrating the sudden inspection desk with other bureaus in the commission and streamlining the spot check procedures.

The Deputy Commissioner indicated that the access to information on the officers aids in curbing nefarious acts, recalling prior incidents of false reporting through exploiting their privileged position.

"We'll be able to track every step of the clearing process," Mulugeta told Fortune.

Up to a billion Birr has been saved during the year by spot checks that yielded quantity differences and wrongly described items. Mulugeta believes that the new operational manual will significantly increase revenues.

The legal affairs deputy also identifies quantity differences between declared and imported goods along with the misdescription of items to be significant contributors to lost customs revenue.

"We are trade facilitators, not mere duty collectors," said Mulugeta remarking on the possible improvement in the time it takes for goods to clear.

Commissioner Debelie Kebeta told Parliament a month ago that 10.2 billion Br worth of contraband goods had been seized throughout the year. This is despite the commission collecting 161 billion Br in duties during the year.

Information between the different departments of the Commission will be integrated through software systems called Electronic Customs Valuation System G-2(ECVG-2) and Valuation Detail Declaration (VDD).

It was developed 12 years ago by the Indian state-owned Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) with 203,000 dollars in investment. The system was upgraded last year by a team of internal experts headed by Behailu Bedassa, following a study which suggested that 85pc of import documents were forged.

The new operation manual stipulates that if the sudden physical inspection that is conducted by the team of intelligence and inspection personnel yields payable duties, it will be registered by the offence management system of the intelligence department, while criminal proceedings will commence for perpetrators identified as intentionally committing fraud.

Ethiopia's logistics performance index has consistently been placed at the bottom, ranking 129 out of 160 in the 2020 World Bank Index.

Athani Ahmed, a textile importer for the past decade, says any shift in the streamlining of operations by the Commission will be of benefit to both the government and traders.

"Everyone wants to leave the customs compound as quickly as possible," he told Fortune.

He applauds efforts by the Commission to make its customs operations efficient as he believes it contributes to how incentivised traders will be in importing goods. Yet, he looks forward to seeing how the implementation of the new manual plays out.

The new system is deemed long overdue for clearing agents that experience the hustle daily.

Abel Meshesha, a licensed freight forwarder and clearing agent, encourages the initiation but advises revisiting the risk profiles of privileged individuals and organisations that utilise their immunity from spot checks to bring undeclared goods.

He indicated that several importers use the umbrella of power-affiliated or government-endorsed institutions to pass the checkpoints.

"An integrated spot check system can only improve services," he told Fortune.

Abel underscores the importance of etiquette for officers as the lack of proper conduct is pervasive according to his two-decade experience. He recalled acrid engagements between importers and officers which radiated outside the compounds of the customs offices.

The surprise inspection should take place in front of all relevant stakeholders at once to simplify the clearing process and prevent the possibility of conflict, according to the veteran of the freight forwarding industry.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 22,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1212]

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