Clearing agents now have to be appointed online, a procedure meant to facilitate legitimate trade and fight fraud like unauthorized usage of other firms' tax identification numbers (TINs).
A brainchild of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the electronic appointment of clearing agents takes effect February 3, 2014, according to URA spokesperson, Sarah Banage. Clearing agents are links between importers and exporters and Customs. Among others, they help their clients to declare goods for taxation purposes.
To appoint a clearing agent, goods' owners, namely importers and exporters, have to log onto https://ura.go.ug and choose from a pool of licensed clearing agents.
"As soon as the appointment occurs, the system will recognize them as the only people lawfully authorized to transact with URA on behalf of the client," Banage said.
"If any other agent tries to declare goods on behalf of that person, who earlier appointed an agent, the system will automatically halt the process."
The East African Community Customs Management Act, 2004 provides for the appointments of clearing agents, who validate goods in the revenue authorities' systems. Section 145, part 1 of the Act states: "The Commissioner may license persons to act as agents for transacting business relating to the declaration or clearance of any goods or baggage other than accompanied non-manifested personal baggage of a person travelling by air, land or sea."
Section 146, part 1 of the Act adds: Where under the provisions of the Customs laws the owner of any goods is required or authorized to perform any act, then such act, unless the contrary appears, may be authorized on his or her behalf by authorized agent."
Among others, the implications of this are that importers or exporters will not be required to write formal letters authorising clearing firms to handle their consignments. Additionally, unlike in the past, illegal and unauthorised use of other firms' TINs will be eliminated.
Citing the advantages to the business community, Banage said the electronic appointments would ensure that transactions regarding their consignments are handled by bona fide clearing agents. Other advantages are avoiding duplication of transactions and to prevent unprofessional practices.
And to the traders, Banage argued that it would secure them from loss of business due to unprofessional practices. It will also insulate them against unnecessary outstanding.
"In the past, there were cases of cunning agents who transacted in the names of other people's companies. Those companies would subsequently incur inexplicable tax liabilities," Banage explained.
Unlike in the past when companies fell victim to some agents' trickery, after February 3, agents will be liable. To kick-start the process, URA has enlightened stakeholders about the procedure. The training sessions occurred at URA training school in Kampala.
Hitherto, a company would merely appoint a clearing agent who presented requisite documents regarding a consignment. However, owing to the manner of appointment, issues, among them duplication of transactions, often arose.
The process will start when the clearing agents' firms are licensed. The list of agents will be uploaded on the portal by the Customs Administrator using the portal in the agent appointment module. The agents shall appoint their employees (with URA IDs or employee IDs) in their log-in on the portal. (A preloaded list of employees will have been entered by the Customs Administrator at licensing.)
Once the above is done, the clearing agent firms' information shall be sent to ASYCUDA World, (a web-based Customs clearing system), and populated in the table of declarants, while the employees' information shall be sent and populated in the declarant's agent table in ASYCUDA World.
Any consignee or exporter who wishes to appoint a clearing agent shall login using the portal and, through the Customs Agent module, shall find the list of agents previously uploaded.
Using the agents firms' TIN, the consignee or exporter shall choose the agent and appoint the firm.
The clearing agent's firm shall accept the appointment and notification shall be sent to the consignee/exporter. If this is not done, the transaction will not be completed. The author works with URA's Public And Corporate Affairs unit.