ASYCUDA and the Clearing Process
The acronym ‘ASYCUDA’ stands for Automated System for Customs Data— a computer-based information tool that provides a direct electronic link between importers, their agents and the Customs Department for the recording and clearance of goods and collection of revenues.
The System was created by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to facilitate and regulate trade between countries. It was introduced in Sierra Leone in April 2010 with financial support from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID) as part of the National Revenue Authority’s Modernisation Programme.
The objective of introducing ASYCUDA ++ (the version adopted in Sierra Leone) was to enable accurate calculation and collection of duties, security and control of shipments, increase in fiscal revenue, reduction in clearance delay, production of quality trade statistics and financial reports, and improvement in trade facilitation and commercial confidentiality.
The System has brought advantages for all involved in the import, export and transit of goods—i.e. businesses, private importers/exporters, carriers and shipping/airline agencies, clearing and forwarding agencies, terminal operators including seaport and airport authorities, banking institutions, the NRA and Government of Sierra Leone. It has abolished unnecessary bureaucracy and administrative effort for both the Customs Department and the business community and has significantly reduced the time taken to process and clear imported consignments—from an average of 72 hours under the previous manual system to just two hours for a correctly declared consignment that requires no Customs examination.
ASYCUDA ++ is now in operation at Sierra Leone’s main seaport at Freetown (Queen Elizabeth II Quay) and the Lungi International Airport. It has just been rolled out to the Gbalamuya joint border post between the Guinean and Sierra Leonean border.
How does it work?
- ASYCUDA ++ enables Direct Trader Inputting (DTI), clearing and forwarding agents or Customs brokers on behalf of traders to connect to the Customs server to make electronic declarations by use of computers in their own office premises. For those agencies that do not have a computer connection from their office, they can visit the DTI Bureau facility at Customs to declare goods electronically.
- Under ASYCUDA ++, Customs officers will conduct verifications on declarations and assess them when found to be error-free. The system will automatically calculate duties and taxes on goods based on the Customs value and under specific commodity codes. On registration of declarations, it will also select consignments for immediate release, documentary checks or physical examination by Customs officers (See the section ‘Step 5—Consistency check at Customs’ below which describes this process). Following this, the System will verify payments made, issue receipts and capture trade statistics.
- Payment of duties and taxes must be made to a designated commercial bank. These banks are integrated into ASYCUDA ++ so that direct payment can be made. Electronic receipts are issued which GST-registered businesses require for the purpose of reclaiming their GST Input Tax Credit. These receipts must be retained for a period of six years.
- Declarations and payments may be made in advance of importation to ‘fast-track’ clearance of goods.
- With regard to security, ASYCUDA ++ has a selectivity function which enables declared goods to be prioritised in order to protect revenue and or prevent illegal imports. The System uses risked-based assessment based on the profile or past records of importers or agents; threat to revenue collection; country of origin; nature of import and potential for illegal imports. The System takes all of these matters into account in allocating the goods either for ‘fast-track’ clearance or a more detailed examination. It is important, therefore, that importers and agents establish a good record of honest and accurate declarations if they are to gain the full benefit of the ‘fast-track’ facility.
To ensure minimum delays in the clearance process, importers or their clearing and forwarding agents should follow these simple steps.
Submit/register an electronic declaration in ASYCUDA— before any consignment is cleared at Customs, an importer or agent should be in possession of relevant documents relating to his or her imported goods. They should then proceed to complete the NRA Single Customs Declaration (SCD) in the ASYCUDA++ System. This can be done remotely or at the Direct Traders Input (DTI) Bureau at Customs House in Cline Town. When a declaration is completed and registered, a unique reference number is assigned by the system.
ASYCUDA Assessment Notice—the importer/agent having registered the declaration, will request for an assessment of taxes to be paid. The system will generate an Assessment Notice that will be used to make payment at the designated bank.
Tax payment at a designated commercial bank—the cashier at the bank will use the Assessment Notice submitted by the importer or agent to cross-check taxes to be paid. Once satisfied, the bank cashier will receive the tax payment from the importer/agent and post the payment onto the system which will automatically generate a receipt.
Submission of declaration and documents to customs—the importer/agent should then print two copies of the declaration, attach all relevant documents and receipts and submit them to Customs for clearance processing.
Consistency check at Customs—at Customs, the In-gate Unit (i.e. the Selectivity Unit) will retrieve the declaration from ASYCUDA++ to ascertain ownership, type and quantity of goods and that the documents indicated in the system correspond with the printed copies submitted to Customs, and verify that payment has been made.
Declarations that meet Customs acceptance criteria will be accepted and selectivity triggered. As a result, declarations will be channelled into one of four lanes for clearance processing. Each lane is assigned a color—Green, Blue, Yellow and Red—according to level of compliance:
• Green Lane: declared goods will be automatically assessed and a Release Order is generated to allow immediate collection of consignment at the port.
• Blue Lane: declared goods will be released but the declaration will undergo documentary checks and a post clearance control and audit at a later date.
• Yellow Lane: declared goods will be subjected to thorough documentary check wherein a Customs officer is required to check the value, classification and country of origin of the goods among others. If no discrepancy is found, declaration is assessed and released. Where a discrepancy is found, the declaration will require an amendment and reassessment and will be released only when found to be error-free.
• Red Lane: declared goods will be subjected to thorough documentary check followed by physical examination of the goods. If discrepancy is found then an amendment will be required. If found to error free, the goods will be released.
All declarations found to be with error(s) are referred to the Query & Amendment Unit for correction. After the amendment and additional payment to a bank if there are revenue implications, Customs will check the correctness of the amended declaration before a Release Order can be issued.
- Please note that the System will retain details of inaccurate declarations and discrepancies which will determine the treatment of consignments by individual importers or agents in future. As mentioned earlier, it is therefore important for an importer or agent to agent to build a good track record or profile by making accurate declarations and prompt payments of taxes if they wish to avoid undue delays when clearing goods and enjoy the full benefits of the fast-track facility.
Customs Release Office—the office issues a Release Order only after the declaration has been assessed as described above. The Release Order, after perforation with the Customs Seal, is taken to the Ports Authority Delivery Office.
Ports Authority Delivery Office - On receiving the Release Order, Ports will check the declaration in the ASYCUDA++ System to ascertain whether the importer/agent has complied with Customs formalities and regulations. Ports will then complete and issued a system Exit Note detailing the particulars of the consignment for the Importer or Agent to take delivery.
Customs Main Gate Office—this marks the final stage in the clearing process where Customs will check Exit note to ensure that the consignment being taken out of the port corresponds with what is in the Release Order and Exit Notes. If exit note is found to be correct, the Customs Officer will allow the goods to leave otherwise, the goods will be referred for correct documentation.
All businesses engaged in import or export will be required to obtain a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) before using the ASYCUDA ++ System. The TIN is a unique computer-generated number allocated to each taxpayer whether they are individuals, businesses, Government departments or public corporations.