The customs modernisation programme of the South African Revenue Service (Sars), announced on September 1, requires the upskilling of customs officials, as well as the support of and collaboration with industries, businesses and the whole of government to shape a customs and trade ecosystem that supports economic growth and social development.
Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter and Sars Customs director Beyers Theron, during separate speeches to the South African Association of Freight Forwarders summit on September 16, said one of Sars' nine strategic objectives was to enhance the skills of its officers to be more empowered as this was central to its efforts to rebuild the institution and modernise it.
"In the area of capability and capacity development, our objective is to develop staff to become high-performing, diverse, agile and engaged," said Kieswetter.
Further, Sars continues to create open and structured engagement forums to provide opportunities for collaboration and opportunities for stakeholders to provide constructive feedback and hold Sars to account for its commitments, he said.
"Our strategic objective eight requires us to work with and through stakeholders to improve the entire tax ecosystem. We want to learn and work with you to make the journey to voluntary compliance a universal principle in tax and customs engagements," noted Kieswetter.
"This [customs modernisation programme] is an investment into [the freight industry's] competitiveness and our fiscal integrity. Our approach is to drive higher levels of voluntary compliance and every stakeholder is important for and has an interest in its success," he said.
Kieswetter committed Sars to providing: ongoing clarity for operators, simplified processes, facilitating trade efficiently into the domestic economy, and seamless passage to destinations in other customs administrations.
"We obviously have to make significant advances through increased automation and connectivity through data integration and coordinated frontline interventions so that compliant operators can be provided with a 'greenlane' experience," he added.
The ambitious customs modernisation programme requires committed focus and industry and government collaboration to achieve the overarching purpose of supporting economic growth and social development, and Sars commits to soon engaging in more depth on the programme and commencing with trade engagements to co-create this particular vision, said Theron.
"The first guiding principle for the programme involves leveraging off technology and data, which remain key drivers, and the increased use of data to improve decision-making and effective risk management on the frontline. The second principle, resulting from improved data flow and risk management, will lead to a shift of reduced frontline interventions and a focus on high risk and illicit activity.
"This shift from transactional to entity management must be backed up by a very strong post-clearance audit capacity. Therefore, it is critical to develop a competent, agile and informed staffing complement, as well as ensuring we are building skills that are compatible with modern tax and customs administrations," he said.
Simultaneously, the revenue service must collaborate with the private sector to equip custom officers with commercial and supply chain skills. The future customs officer has to be professional, agile and responsive and have a solid understanding of the higher purpose of ensuring the contribution of trade to South Africa's economic competitiveness and social stability, said Theron.
"If there is a collective appetite to develop a smart, modern and efficient customs and trade ecosystem, it can become a reality to have non-stop border processes and automatic, near-instantaneous exchange of information and documents among required stakeholders and customs administrations," he said.
Sars is cleaning its own house and, as it does so, it will expect more from its partners and for them to be co-creators of an ecosystem of integrity, so that South Africa can become a country that can deal with its issues of corruption and address the stubborn challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment, Kieswetter concluded.