EDITORIAL COMMENT: Asycuda challenges a wake-up call

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Asycuda challenges a wake-up call | Herald (Opinion)

Government urgently needs to expedite procurement law reforms to address challenges being faced at border posts with the Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) whose resuscitation requires a mere $130 000, but is constrained by red tape.

Too much money has been lost already and the economy cannot afford this. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has induced a sense of urgency, responsibility, honesty and accountability in how we do business and it is important that this message gets home sooner rather than later in most operations.

The fact that Zimbabwe is losing revenue, which could have accrued from the payment of toll fees, is quite unfortunate as it comes at a time when the country badly needs the resources to meet its several competing needs.

Even more worrying are reports that some local businesspeople have suspended cargo movements until the Asycuda crisis has been addressed. Government admits that replacing the system is not an expensive process, but the bureaucracy associated with getting approvals to purchase it are standing in the way. This needs to change.

Essentially, Government has come face-to-face with the challenges that businesses grapple with on a daily basis with between little and nothing happening to rectify the challenges. This is particularly painful as it comes at a time when Government is seized with efforts to address the ease of doing business.

That it takes up to 120 days before the State Procurement Board (SPB) approves purchases of goods of national importance as the Zimra servers is alarming given the role played by the national tax collector in ensuring that the Government machinery keeps rolling.

The status of the Public Procurement Bill, which was gazetted on August 4 this year has not been ascertained yet, but what is inescapable is the fact that once signed into law, it will address the several challenges associated with doing business in Zimbabwe.

The law will repeal the Procurement Act and abolish the SPB, replacing it with a new body called the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, which will not conduct procurement proceedings, but will only oversee and regulate procurement activities done by Government ministries, statutory bodies (parastatals) and local authorities.

Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Terrence Mukupe has conceded that it is not Zimra’s fault that the system is down, but the “framework” of either fixing it or acquiring a new one that is responsible for the current mess at border posts. He said the procurement process needs to be “streamlined” to avoid delays of this nature.

Significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to approve purchases is what the economy badly requires at the moment, to dovetail with President Mnangagwa’s thrust of “hitting the ground running”.

Said Deputy Minister Mukupe: “The systems and servers at Beitbridge collapsed and right now, everything is being processed manually. I was talking to the IT people (at Zimra) and we found out that they knew in August that the servers that they had, were acquired in 2011 and were going to shut down.

“We need a business mentality that when things are of an important or are of a critical nature to the economy, we should be able to have systems and processes that should be able to expedite such issues. You find that the servers cost $130 000, that is all they cost, but because of the processes that you have, it will take you three, four, five months to go to the SPB and by the time you deal with the processes, you have got a disaster.”

A business mentality is what President Mnangagwa is trying to inculcate in heads of Government department. The 100-day targets that have been set for ministers are an indication that the new administration means business.

The challenges associated with the Zimra servers should therefore be a wake-up call for Government that reforms to laws impacting on the ease of doing business should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Businesses say they are losing a lot of money due to the rigidity of local laws and are clamouring for a widespread re-jigging of all bad laws affecting industry.

Yes, eight of the 14 laws being amended under the auspices of doing reforms, including the Movable Property Securities Interests Act, have been passed, but it is important that they be taken to the President for ascension by the ministries responsible. Statutory Instruments should also be gazetted to fix dates when the laws would start to take effect.