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SARS/LRA policy differences hurt traders

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Inconsistencies and lack of collaboration between the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the Lesotho Revenue Authority have been blamed for stalling business among Basotho Traders and clearing agents. Clearing agencies in the country have said since South Africa embarked on Level Four lockdown, specifications to allow Lesotho Traders and Clearing Agencies to bring goods into the country have been tightened.

An official from one local clearing agency who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said they are experiencing problems and have since tabled their grievances to LRA, SARS and South African Immigration officials. He noted there is lack of collaboration between SARS and LRA which is adversely affecting their business. Before lockdown, he said, they were using the clearing agency’s Import/Export code to clear goods for their customers, which was allowed by both SARS and LRA and was enabling LRA to claim revenue in South Africa.

However, since the lockdown SARS has informed them that they should stop using the agency’s Export/Import code but use that of the supplier. But the new document does not enable LRA to claim revenue from South Africa since currently they are using Import/Export codes of South African suppliers. “LRA released a statement on 12th June noting that clearing agencies will no longer use suppliers’ Import/Export codes to clear goods from SA but will, instead, use that of agencies. “However, LRA has kept quiet while SARS was demanding that we use suppliers’ customs code.

“It was only today (Wednesday) that they refused to let goods pass through the borders using the supplier’s code and demanded that we use that of an agency nominated to render the clearing service. “SARS, on the other hand, demands that we use suppliers’ codes and penalises us up to M10 000 for failing to, while LRA does not allow goods to pass into Lesotho if the code they demand is not used. “We do not know which one to use because either way we lose. If we use our customs import/export code we get penalised and if we use that of the supplier, goods are denied entry into the country,” he noted.

He added the customs code that is required by South African Immigration when crossing the borders gets issued after 15 to 30 working days within which time they are not allowed to conduct any business while waiting for its approval. The official is pleading with LRA and SARS to allow them to operate and use reference numbers as proof that they have indeed applied. What worries the clearing agencies and Lesotho traders is that Immigration and SARS are not collaborating as traders are normally rejected at immigration under allegations that their Customs Export/Import codes are fake, without evidence to prove the allegations.

Clearing agents have tried to reach out to Customs Manager Reetseng Mosaase and the Lesotho Parliament about the matter but the Parliament failed to help them and directed that they should instead seek help from National Emergency Command Centre (NECC). “Mosaase demanded a list of Traders and Clearing agencies that have grievances. Instead of addressing the issue, she summoned clearing agencies and traders individually threatening to victimise them until some even withdrew their grievances,” another clearing agent who also didn’t want to be identified, said.

He said what worries them most is that South African Traders are allowed to enter Lesotho without restrictions. “Immigration told us that we should tell our suppliers to deliver goods for us and stop going to South Africa but we do not have the financial muscle to do so because doing so will mean paying transportation fees with the money that was supposed to be our profit. “We don’t understand why Lesotho is failing to ensure that Lesotho small businesses proceed smoothly just like SA does for its own people,” he said.

On the 16th June Lesotho Traders and Clearing Agencies wrote a letter to Mosaase outlining their grievances but to date they have not received any response apart from thretening phone calls to people and companies that signed the letter. Part of the letter that Public Eye has seen reads: “We are fully aware that customs code regulation was put in place by SARS way back in 2012 and we sincerely comply. However, we would like to appeal that traders who have already applied and have received case numbers (references) be allowed to cross the border and continue trading while waiting for their application to be approved.

“We also plead that transporters be allowed to use import/export codes for traders who they are rendering services for; in the event where the trader has applied and is waiting for approval, references should be accepted.

“We plead that clearing agents be allowed to use their customs code on the declaration for traders who have references and unregistered once-off traders and also plead for consistency between SARS and LRA with regards to the declaration process as differences cause confusion to us and our clients when trucks/loads get stuck at the border,” reads part of the letter.Lesotho Traders and Clearing Agents also wrote to the Parliament of Lesotho asking for assistance and intervention on the matter but the Parliament was unable to help them and instead advised that NECC was in a much better position to address their grievances.

The letter to Parliament was articulating customs Import/Export code challenges they are facing and asking for intervention. A letter responding to their plea which was written and signed by the Clerk of the National Assembly Advocate Lebohang Maema reads: “We are in receipt of a letter and appeal from Lesotho Traders and Clearing Agents for assistance and intervention by the National Assembly.

“This relates to addressing issues of Customs Import/Export Codes and other challenges they face in the movement of goods across the border with the Republic of South Africa. “We are in view that the NECC is in a much better position to address this issue in assisting Lesotho Traders during this difficult period as a result of COVID-19. Kindly be seized with this matter . . . .,” reads the letter, in part. Lesotho Traders and Clearing Agencies are currently waiting for a permit from the police to force concerned stakeholders to address their grievances.

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