Customs will roll out phase one of its transition to an online process that will eventually eliminate paper documents.
Step one in a five-phase roll-out that is likely to take years to complete will begin on 1 November and officials say this first phase will make clearing goods easier for importers. “This will be the first phase of the business modernisation and refining process that customs will embark on over the next three years,” said Collector of Customs Charles Clifford, adding that the initiative was “aimed at delivering excellent customer service and more efficient trade facilitation for importers”.
He explained that the department had already “engaged stakeholders” and received support for the initiative “designed to expedite the clearance of imported goods while maintaining effective strategies to identify high risk imports”.
According to Deputy Collector of Customs Kevin Walton, the department is currently undergoing modernisation and reform of its business processes, laws, policies and IT systems. This first phase includes an online trader portal, which will act as a platform for the electronic submission of customs declaration.
“The final aim is for customs to transition to a paperless environment that will allow users to submit their importation declarations and do business via electronic means,” Walton said. “Using technology will eliminate the need for importers to submit paperwork or attend in person at our counters, saving them time, money and paper as well.”
The process has been undergoing testing for several months while staff members have been receiving training, and they are ready for the roll-out of phase one. Using technology will comprehensively expand and streamline the business the department conducts, officials stated in a release, adding that government intends to amend the Customs Law and Customs Tariff Law during the modernisation process.
For customers of the department, the first step onto an online process will enable them to submit entry declarations and other requirements remotely. This should reduce the time it takes for authorities to process documents “dramatically”, Walton claimed. The new process will be available to traders who have registered with customs and they are also being offered training until the end of this month in the new process.
“After that, training in the use of our online portal will continue in-house for medium to small-scale traders, and especially inpiduals who import goods via sea or air. Also, using a selected group of traders, we will be conducting testing of the new system before it is launched,” Walton added.
Clifford warned that there could be some hitches but he was confident of the long-term improvements. “As with any change process, there will be some initial teething problems as our staff and our customers get used to the changed environment. We ask our customers for their patience as we seek to modernise our processes to serve you better,” he added.