The upgrading of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) system from the manual process to Asycuda 2.7, then to Asycuda++ and now Asycudaworld an online system which is expected to be more robust and user friendly, paperless and efficient has its own challenges which in my view have not only affected the revenue collections but also the efficiency at which ZRA provides clearing and other services to the general public.
As a concerned citizen who deals with ZRA nearly on a daily basis, I presume that revenue collections at the authority (ZRA) have seen a downward trend from the time Asycudaworld phase 1 pilot project was rolled out and launched at KK International Airport on the 18th November, 2013.
In my view, the Asycudaworld phase 1 pilot project before being rolled out to the rest of the customs stations around the country that started with southern province, should have taken longer at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport alone.
This could have given enough time for the technical team that implemented the pilot project to fully understand the system and its teething problems which unfortunately have now been rolled out to the rest of the customs stations that have implemented this new system.
In as much as we appreciate the fact that the implementation of the Asycudaworld is multifaceted as it involves the other stakeholders that include the Clearing Agents, Business community, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the general citizenry, ZRA as the implementing authority has a responsibility of ensuring that everyone involved is taken on bold and correctly so, so that the implementation of this electronic single window for Zambia to connect other government agencies involved in trade and logistics does not lose its intended purpose of being user friendly and efficient for business.
The challenges that come with every technological change and advancement are multiple and hence the need for ZRA as the implementing authority to ensure that the Clearing Agents and other stakeholders (both large and small scale) are compelled to embrace this switch from Asycuda++ to Asycudaworld with necessary preparedness which entails acquiring the right equipment, reliable and dedicated connectivity to the internet and skills transfer.
With the challenges that are faced at port offices and customs boarder stations that I have visited (e.g Lusaka port office and Chirundu OSBP), it is clear that not even the large scale multinationals and local Clearing Agents have taken this switch from Asycuda++ to Asycudaworld with the necessary preparedness as there is still evident dependence on the DTI centres at ZRA that I know will be phased out as time goes by.
I do not want to imagine that one day business may come to a standstill at customs boarder points and many customs stations around the country should the implementing authority (ZRA) come up with a deadline when all Clearing Agents and other stakeholders will be required to stop using the equipment in DTI centres at ZRA and process entries from their respective offices and do away with the one-on-one contact with ZRA staff in all stations.
ZICTA as the regulatory body for ISPs is also a stakeholder who must also deal with the challenges that businesses face with internet reliability and connectivity that has undoubtedly led to most Clearing Agents continue depending on the DTI centres at ZRA.
With all the explanations and excuses being given by ZRA as to why Asycudaworld is still having a legion of challenges that even led to Clearing Agents and other stakeholders rioting in Nakonde, the truth in my opinion is that the system good as it may be, was implemented in a hurry before being understood even by the implementing authority itself and worse of all other stakeholders.
I know the Asycudaworld is intended to provide customs to customs connection for electronic data exchange not only between many customs stations around Zambia but even with neighboring countries but in my own opinion it is currently irritatingly inconveniencing for business.
Entries take unnecessarily long to be examined and assessed on Asycudaworld hence delaying clients and revenue collections by Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) who I suspect have not met their monthly targets since the implementation of this new system (stand to be corrected).
Lastly, the media must also take keen interest to find out the challenges faced by ZRA and other stakeholders like Clearing Agents (large scale & small scale) like Global Logistics, Manica, Circle Transtra, Bollore and many others, Motor Vehicle Dealers both with franchises and used motor vehicles and the general public following the implementation of the new system (Asycudaworld).
Name of author wihtheld on request