ZIMRA recently issued the following notice: “With effect from November 1, 2020, importers are advised that goods imported by road into Zimbabwe must be pre-cleared before their arrival. All privately imported motor vehicles driven or transported by car carriers must be pre-cleared before they are dispatched to Zimbabwe. Motor vehicles can only be loaded onto carriers or driven into the country when the relevant processes have been completed, including the payment of duties, where applicable. Clearance details must be sent to the carrier to enable them to load vehicles. Please take note that carriers have been notified of this requirement.’’

What Does This Mean?

This development is an interesting one because it is going to redefine how vehicles and goods are cleared. Many of you are aware of how arduous it has always been to get goods or vehicles cleared. This is because when these items would arrive at ports of entry the clearance would start at that very moment. It is no wonder why the process was very long. With this new setup it means the clearance process starts way before the items even reach the port of entry. In fact, they will not even be loaded into their respective carriers if the pre-clearance has not yet been done. Once the items get to a port of entry, paperwork submitted is simply cross-checked to ascertain everything is above board.

The documents that the one importing will be required to provide are as follows: invoices, bill of lading, export documents, proof of payments, freight statement, copy of passport, police clearance, and a rebate letter (if applicable). These will have to be scanned digital copies that can be sent online. The documentation required is not limited to these documents alone. Other documents might be needed for purposes of calculation of duties payable.

Bear in mind that there shall be two things punishable if one is found committing them. One, not adhering to this new setup i.e. not pre-clearing vehicles or goods. Two, obviously there will be people who will try to falsify documents. If you are found wanting in that regard you will be charged with a criminal offence.

Is This Going To Speed Up The Process?

In theory, this new system sounds smooth and faster, no doubt! However, the execution part of it might not be as smooth given the many variables at play. You just have to look at some local processes that are so simple yet a barrage of issues is encountered. Take for instance simple NOSTRO bank transfers. I have heard of several instances where civil servants would make bank transfers to merchants yet even over a week would ensue before the transfers got through. Why am I saying this? This new system will entail a particular level of digitization. Judging by the current state of internet infrastructure and SOPs in ZIMRA a lot of issues are of concern.

ZIMRA is still largely paper-based, something that is not supposed to be for the sole governing revenue authority in the country. I recall visiting one particular office at ZIMRA that was riddled with shelves of paper files. I could not help but wonder especially in this day and age of digitization. I might be sounding too hard (even pessimistic somehow) but I guess time will tell. This does not at all ignore some of the notable strides ZIMRA has taken digitally.

I would like to hear your comments regarding this new pre-clearance system. Do you think it is going to speed up the clearance process? Is the system going to be seamless? What other areas do you feel more has to be done in terms of how ZIMRA operates? Looking at this new pre-clearance system how can it be tweaked to deliver the best value? I personally think there is a lot of revenue seepage due to lack of watertight digitization in how ZIMRA functions. I definitely would like to see more being done in that regard.