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One year of NRAs ASYCUDA operation!

One year of NRAs ASYCUDA operation!

The Automated System for Customs Data, (ASYCUDA), has today clocked its first anniversary, since it was introduced on the 1st of April, 2010 in Sierra Leone by the Customs and Excise Department, one of the operational departments of the National Revenue Authority. The National Revenue Authority, created by an Act of Parliament 2002, has a mandate of revenue collection among others. It has, as operational department the Customs and Excise, Non Tax and the Domestic Taxes.  (Photo: John Baimba Sesay)

The Customs and Excise Department has been generating a huge amount of government revenue and in recent times, has been modernizing its processes and procedures, with clients now spending less time in cleaning their goods, from the Customs Department. Then introduction of ASYCUDA is part of the Customs Modernization process.

ASYCUDA, an acronym meaning Automated System for Customs Data is a computer software package that is used by Customs Administrations in many countries, in processing documents which relate to export and importation of goods.  It ensures fast clearance of goods, and at the same time accounting for revenue collected and compilation of trade statistics. It makes trade more reliable, transparent and efficient having an audit trail that has helped in increasing the confidence of taxpayers in the systems of customs operations.

This system, prior to its introduction in Sierra Leone, was in existence in several countries around the world, with Sierra Leone only joining the list of countries  last year. Since its introduction last year, there have been a number of success stories, especially from the perspective of revenue collection and in reducing the time Customs brokers spend in undertaking their processes and procedures.

Speaking yesterday, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mohamed S. Bamba stated that  notwithstanding the challenges the NRA faced when ASYCUDA introduction was in the embryonic stage, progress has been made tremendously  since it came into effect in April 1st 2010.  He said, Sierra Leone happens to be one of the countries to have introduced ASYCUDA without experiencing a breakdown leading to a reverse to the manual system for the first one year. As a result of this achievement, he said even the World Customs Organization, to which Customs and Excise Department is a part, commended the Customs and Excise Department of the NRA.

Speaking further, M S Bamba explained, that even the local ownership of the programme in terms of Information Technology and function “is an advantage…” Today, he said, the system has enabled the importers to effectively clear their goods from Customs within hours and that it has also largely helped in accounting for government revenue and also “in getting reliable and comprehensive information about trade data in terms of import and export…”  From the revenue perspective, the Customs Commissioner said, the ASYCUDA system has been able to put control measures in areas where revenues used to leak as the NRA has also been able to build the capacity of staff and stakeholders in Customs processes and procedures.

Last year alone, the Customs and Excise Department was able to generate over three hundred billion Leone for government. This success could be attributed to the introduction of ASYCUDA, plus the commitment of the CED workforce. “The plausible achievement of the ASYCUDA system is a boost to President Koroma’s agenda for change…” said a customs broker

As a result of these successes, the Customs administration, under the National Revenue Authority is now exploring the possibility of deepening its relationship with stakeholders as they have contracted the services of a service provider that would effectively make clients properly connect to the Automate System for Customs Data.  The project is expected to cover areas like Lungi International Airport and the main border offices in Gendema in the Pujehun district and Gbalamuya in the Kambia district. At present, is fully in operations at the Freetown Port. Lungi is to have a feel of the system in the near future.

The introduction of the ASYCUDA system into customs operation is part of NRA’s modernization plan. The system was a major component that was aimed at migrating from the then manual system with a large number of tedious steps to an automated system which has today recued on the bureaucracies that used to exist. As part of the transition process in 2009, the ASYCUDA Project Team undertook overview training for over three hundred participants, including 191 Customs Staff, 158 Customs Brokers and 28 Customs and Excise Department/NRA Senior Managers. The training itself was climaxed with an exams organized for Operational Customs Staff at the Bishop Johnson Memorial School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Since the introduction of the system, an importer is expected to clear his goods in two hours, pending there is no problem in all of the processes from declaration to payment of money to the banks. Also, this system has today, helped to address the issues of properly accounting for revenue, since since about 95% of Customs payment now goes to the banks.  Apart from Customs, the NRA is also now modernizing its operation, as was seen in the introduction of the GST and the merging of GST and Income Tax recently with plans to get local excise as part of DTD.

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