Customs must change their Parcel free-charging policies

I hope you could find space to publish my article on the way our Customs charges fees on gifts. I’m not the one to whinge about as we have now come to accept the poor delivery of services from government officials as reality – they never listen but some things really need to change and I would really like to hear from others on this issue.

OK bloggers, especially those living overseas, not sure if I’m the only one who sees a problem with our Customs’ behaviour when it comes to the way they administer charges on parcels meant for gifts and presents to family and friends back home. I have been at pains for years contemplating and trying to understand the reasoning behind our Customs’ policies on this issue. It’s almost like they have a deliberate policy to discourage people from sending presents and gifts to their families and friends. How else could one describe their behaviour of insisting to charge on almost every parcel?

The amount of money, effort and time spent on sending a parcel to Zambia are just too much and are almost not worth sending the parcel in the first place. In a poor country like ours, you would think the government and Customs would make it easier for people to send gifts since this would help contribute to the living standards of the people.

My understanding of Customs wanting to collect a fee on parcels is two-folds (note: I’m no economist):

1.       To minimise the impact on the local manufacturers so that people don’t just buy cheap foreign goods at the expense of local produced goods; and thus protect jobs.
2.       To collect revenues and tax in order to distribute wealth to everybody (the good old Marxist socioeconomic theory: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’)

Both are very well intentioned ideas. But we have to look at them in the context of Zambia. In the first instance we all know our local industries are almost dead or non-existent, especially when it comes to electronics and/or white goods. So which local industries would the government (through Customs) be protecting by charging ridiculous and exorbitant amount of fees on gift parcels? And in the second instance, surely this was not how Karl Marx intended his theory to be implemented. Why would you try to ‘extort’ money from a gift meant for someone who is already in need? Yes I deliberately call it ‘extorting’ because the experiences I have had over the years almost tantamount to extorting. In most cases the receiver who is poor is the one who is asked to pay the charges when they can barely afford their meal. I would have thought in a poor country like ours, the government would deliberately come up with policies that would encourage and make it easier for people to send goods (and ‘services’) into the country to help alleviate high levels of poverty. Alas no, not with ours. Such policies could even help bring down the cost of imported goods if you could see how (I won’t go into those details). You would also think they would know that I wouldn’t really bother to send a gift to a rich person like GBM that he already had anyway.

The whole idea of charging parcels is counterproductive. And I wouldn’t even try to go into the details of each case, because largely the policy is applied inconsistently by Customs. In most cases Customs contradict themselves in the way the demand and apply the charges. In one instance they would advise you the minimal amount on which the charges are applied is US$500; in another they would say its US$1000 or US$250 or even US$100 depending on the day and who you speak to or if they suspect you are an informed customer. In some instances I had to read and quote the official figure from some Budget speech to counter their arguments. Then there is the contradiction on how they calculate the ‘market value’ of the contents of the parcel; and how much they would ask you to pay once they have determined that value. It gets confusing but the point is these fees are not warranted or justified and they should be reviewed and revised accordingly.

Apparently the value is determined by checking the price of the gift from some database, which I suspect doesn’t even exist or if it does, it is not up-to-date. – I mean prices differ from every country anyway. They would then add the shipping fee of the parcel to the ‘value’. So if you are using Express shipping with DHL or FedEx, it means the determined total value will be higher and inflated. In the end you end up paying a charge which could be higher than the cost of the gif itself (when you include the shipping costs) – not worth it!

As though that wasn’t enough pain, Customs would ‘detain’ your parcel for several days while they are determining the payable fee on it – these guys are very inefficient. And this is what gets me really mad because it defeats the purpose of sending the parcel by Express in the first place. DHL and/or FedEx would ship the parcel within the prescribed 2 to 3 working days (sounds good, right?); but the same parcel would sit idle at Customs at the KK Airport (formerly Lusaka International Airport) for up to one week or even more in some cases. This period apparently is known to them as ‘Clearance’. In this case I would call DHL to find out why the parcel is being delayed. DHL would tell you it’s at Customs waiting for ‘Clearance’; Customs in turn would blame DHL for the delay and so you are there receiving conflicting stories and you don’t know who is telling the truth. And so you suffer like that and there is nothing you can do about it. So you vow not to send another parcel again, until you have no option but to send a parcel again next time and the same cycle and suffering starts all over again. I guess you could argue you could minimise the shipping charges by sending via regular postage. True, but the problem with regular postage is that not only does the parcel delay for several weeks, but also the chances of it arriving safely without missing or undamaged are very remote.

I’m consequently left wondering: am I the only one who goes through this suffering? How do you explain to your university student cousin or nephew of yours that you can’t send them your second hand laptop for them to use because it is too expensive to do so? How do you convince your sister you can’t them a Christmas present because Customs will try extorting money from her? What about to your friend that you can’t send them a new R. Kelly album because chances are that Customs will make it impossible to arrive on time. It’s a conundrum and quagmire that I have faced for 12 years or so. You end up sending (if there is a really high need to) anyway and in my case I end up spending a lot of time, effort and money (and I mean a lot) arguing with Customs on the phone and glad to say in most cases they end up eventually letting the parcel through without a charge, albeit after a prolonged delay. I guess you also argue an alternative is to just send money so they could buy locally but that doesn’t help you escape the exorbitant Western Union fees either – it’s a double edged sword when you think about it.

So I thought it was about time I raised this issue to solicit comments from others to see their experiences and opinions over the issue. I remember raising a similar issue in the onetime popular local newspaper. I hope decision makers would read the article and bloggers comments that will follow so they can inform their decisions. Hey Customs, it’s about time you changed and be on the side of many poor Zambians who need these small but significant gifts. To my relatives and friends back home, please kindly understand the reasons why these gifts aren’t coming regular enough like they should be – please know that Customs is your ‘enemy’.
Muyoyeta Simasiku


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    siampiibede 5 years

    Tell them they have been holding to our parcels and at one time they even removed my HDMI cable and the list showing the contents of my parcel when they where searching. Please twapapata leave our parcels alone. Big smugglers are left and people with good with low values as KR 1000 are being charged. Remember you wont be there for good one day you will as well be in our shoes

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    I am surprised at the low response on this poignant article. I have seen the changes over the years from a situation where I could send money enclosed in a letter, to a situation where even the “International Signed for” service from the UK is not secure. I have had situations where (few years back) printed photos in an envelop have been opened and dumped in the sorting rooms only for a someone who recognised me, to take them home. It has got so bad that, as the author suggests, these guys are now conditioned and this is “normal” business at the office. The common one for stolen parcels is: ” what is the batch number ” it was sent on? As if you as a customer would be asking for the batch number from the post master who is simply providing a local service at the point of posting. This is so bad that we are now forced to use more expensive means like DHL/Fedex and yes the extortionate Western Union etc and this defeats the whole point of helping relatives. It is amazing that the Govt turns a blind eye to some of these things considering the impact and the subsequent image that a nation gets from such dishonest behaviours. And yet the same leaders are busy encouraging people to help relations back home. Truly sickening and if I had to start on ZRA it would be another four page essay. Govt need to look into cleaning up the system and making public basic guidelines that a sender/receiver can refer to without relying on corrupt offers to determine the customs charges.

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    jjjjjjjjjjj 5 years

    As a taxman we are used to all sort of insults.In the first place we know that very few understand the logic behind taxation.We see no proper reason why one should enjoy the rebate for uncompanied baggage.I believe the sender of the parcel has to declare the value of the items to customs from the exporting country.That is the basis of the determination for the application of the customs law in our country.

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      Don’t defend the indefensible! Give customs a receipt showing the value of the items and often they will argue and come up with a value based on the “data base” which I imagine is the price he saw at Manda hill or arcades and that is what they will use as a purchase value for determining payable tax. It is ridiculous and ineffective cause they only do so to push you to bribe them.

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    It is not only Customs who seem to have problems. The RATSA decentrasation does not seem to help matters, The Kitwe station takes many days to give out motor vehicle registration white papers (previously called blue books) can someone please look into this matter

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    obama 5 years

    Guys, we are discussing the ineffeciency of our customs! Is there anything that works well in zed? Go to any government department and you shall experiance the issues as dicussed in the article. My brothers, this is Africa for you, which shall never change in the next 1000years! Ponder on the ripple effects all this causes

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    Rich Boy 5 years

    I feel you my man. I was charged K1.8m Kr 1800 for a US$430 LG 42″ LED. Its rediculous.

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    ACADEMICS 5 years


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    Sharp shooter-nationalist 5 years

    Have never had a problem with customs officer with good well intended for gifts. The problem with our colleagues is that they send gifts or come with gifts intended to sell and offset their expensive air ticket. Just declare your goods and if they are below $1000 and they are not suspiciously for sale, no customs officer will pass it for taxation. How do you explain having 100 Mac powders and say they are gifts.. Maybe 5 or so would do. How about 4 iPads and 3 laptops. Man this is obvious meant for resale.

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      Unsharp shooter-liberal 5 years

      Buddy the author is refering to gifts send via postage… no goods intended for business and brought into the country as luggage. Better read the article again.

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    kennedy 5 years

    Ha ha ha this really tricky for a poor Customs officers who hv been sandwiched between the crying public and the demanding.It is really difficult to be a customs officer.I hv been one for more than 15years and I can assure u it is a difficult Job.I spoke to the writer about 3years ago.The current law has a rebate to personal parcels of USD1000.The major parcels that give problems are not clothes or food but perfumes,mac powders,shoes and spares,phones,Ipads and laptops.These are high priced items and if one sends parcel to a poor relative a hundred Mac powders it costs about KR7000 and another will declare the same for sell.u will charge the one who declares for sell and next time he will declare them for gifts.All i cn say is its difficult to be a customs officer and I cant want to be one again.

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    Kipara Matata 5 years

    Mr. K, can you “advise” what s. 83 of the Customs and excise Act says?
    You know, that is the one between s. 82 and s. 84.

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    Johane 5 years

    ….it is all about jelouses! Many people in zambia target parcels from abroad bcos they think they are luxuries they cant afford themselves and deliberately misapply customs rules to punish receipients!

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    Jigga 5 years

    And it also reminds me of the piece on FAZ charging colossal sums of money for fans to go and watch Zambia-Norway game. In the end the result was poor attendance with empty seats.

    In a similar vein, our revenue collection mentality in this country is always poor. To simplify things they could have been charging a flat fee of say $10 on items above a certain ‘value’ or better still nothing at all.

    The same poor thinking of high charges is happening in almost every aspect of the economy – tourism (where hotels charge exorbitant amounts of money per night, only to fill their many bed spaces with only few rich guests in offseason time when they have no function, aka the workshops); Football games; Visiting Musicians; Mobile Phone calls; etc. Apparently the thinking is the higher the charge, the more profits and thus the wealthier. Wrong – you are better off charging less to target maximum sales and revenue.

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    We Zambians 5 years

    This is a genuine problem for us in the diaspora. When we send gift packages we are made to pay a lot by the customs back home. And it seems these officials take everything received as for business. Something should be done to make us help our people much more by reducing those rates. And then if our recipients do not pay duty as calculated the parcel is held like to ransom. Our nation should understand that there`s a lot of money spent for such transactions every year. A bill should be worked on in Parliament to that effect. I hope Parliamentarians can be made aware of this problem.

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    Deafman 5 years

    Glad someone has raised this issue because what’s happening at Customs is total incompetent and blatant theft. They should never charge on gifts… charging should only be on items meant for commercial purposes. And it’s hard to tell if goods are intended for commercial purposes: instead of 1 or 2, they will be more than 10 in one parcel. But even commercial goods should just be a minimal fee (except on those items we produce like sugar or cement or maize and other items) to make things cheaper for consumers.

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    Bus 5 years

    I have seen a lot of brothers and sisters in the diaspora on this blog and I don’t think I am the only one!Zedians what do u think about dual citizenship?

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    anyandule 5 years

    If you are in the United States sending a parcel to Zambia gifts to your family and relatives use Amezam it is cheaper than Post Office and your Customs fees are almost nil

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      Jigga 5 years

      Hi @ Anyandule, I have checked that Amezam company website and true to your word, it appears like it’s cheaper. Even more interesting is it appears like it may be owned by Zambians. The only problem is it looks like it uses ships and cargo bulk naval shipping. How long would that take? And just curious, how do they avoid Customs charges? Anyway not in the US myself fbut it sounds like the folks there are covered somehow.

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    chills 5 years

    It all comes to jealousness in the end.foolish and ignorant

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    I would advise u to read CAP 322 of the laws of Zambia. Everything officials of customs do is in line with this Act.

    Please pay particular attention to the 5th Schedule to read yourself of the ignorance on valuation of imported goods…

    Valuation methods are:

    1. Transaction Value
    2. Transaction Value of Identical goods
    3. Transaction Value of similar goods
    4. Deductive value method
    5. Computed
    6. Residual

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      Kipara Matata 5 years


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      Kipara Matata 5 years


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        Kipara Matata 5 years


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    KK 5 years

    There are many thieves at Zambia Postal Services. When a package arrives, they do not scan it and steal it using the back door

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    Mulyatatete Shumbwamuntu 5 years

    This situation is so bad that right now as we speak I sent a package in November that has’t arrived’ yet in Zambia from the US. And the culture in these offices is just terrible for some reason they think its ok and that its ‘normal.’ First its not normal it os wrong when people behave in this manner making stealing normal. No one seems to care where the parcels are, and for some reason they behave like you deserve to loose the package. Packages don’t just disappear officials steal them and they walk with their heads high! Its even worse at Zampost!

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    Don killiminati 5 years

    Bafikala niba kabwalala it has happened to me(receiver) several times.

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    Disappointed 5 years

    At least your items do arrive.

    I have sent several items through the post office and they NEVER arrive.
    (They just DISAPPEAR in thin air. From here they can be traced up to Luska Aiport – then they vanish!!!)

    The Post Office people here where we are even advise against sending parcels to Zambia because of the MANY instance when things have not arrived.


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    observer 5 years

    Zambia for you, never mind the thefts as well. Trouble is the authorities in Zambia do not think outside the box when it comes to revenue collection. A good example is kaponyas collect levy at bus stops thats local authorities losing, market levy collected by cadres, money collected in the few car parks ends up in peoples’ pockets.

    ZRA full of fools, they let go of big players and target sometimers recieving schools shoes from relatives abroad, they are very good at creating a desparate situation for customers so that they end up getting bribes. No wonder a full like Mudenda who was second in charge at Vic Falls ended up poor and dying a sorry death, all because of harrassing innocent people.

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      How did tht guy dy?

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      chuulu 5 years

      There are lots of over zealous tuma ZRA officers at KK airport offices who think they know it all. When you send stuff by freight and you actually go to clear and collect them yourself, they deny that the reciepts you have are not authentic and tell you they have their own standard price list for the items. What winds me up is that some of these tuma poko’s have never even been abroad to understand that the items were bought in sales and you paid tax on them in the first place, for example you buy things mot only in the shops but markets as well. Why are you them charged tax again at maybe more than the price you paid for the items? ZRA muchinje mwanyanya kubela bantu imwe ba kelenka