Dossier: Destination....Data!

How Botswana Customs is leveraging data-driven technologies to rethink ways of doing, working, measuring and collaborating

By Jimmy Mokganedi, Principal Officer, Customs Reforms, Botswana Unified Revenue Service

The Botswana Government wants to build a tech-driven economy, in other words, an economy where development is driven by the potential of available technologies and the innovations they unlock. The Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) shares that ambition and is leveraging technologies – more specifically, data-driven technologies – for its business operations. This is evinced by the Service’s investment in various projects, which are described below.

A new Customs Management System for process digitalization

The transition from the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA++) to a new integrated Customs Management System (CMS) in 2017 was the starting point for the digitalization of various processes and procedures. For example, the system has enabled BURS to implement online payments, with traders transferring money through the declaration processing platform and using the reference number it generates. Once payment information is in the system, the declaration is cleared and routed to the next processing stage.

The new CMS also provides for a Single Window platform, through the “Other Government Agencies” (OGA) module. The module enables other government border agencies to receive required data. BURS has enrolled the Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) on the Single Window and is at a testing stage with other agencies, including the Botswana Police and the Ministry of Trade. Deploying the Single Window in these agencies, as well as automated processes such as online payments, is relatively easy as the Single Window platform is web-based.

BURS has also interfaced the CMS with the Licensing and Registration System of the Department of Road Transport and Safety to enable automated data exchange on the clearance and registration of imported vehicles. Once the clearance process is completed by Customs, information such as the chassis number and the engine number is transmitted to the Department’s System for verification purposes prior to registering the vehicle.

Performance measurement

BURS aims to be an agile organization and its strategic plan is updated every five years. To monitor implementation of the plan, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) have been developed for each business area. For example, under revenue collection, data related to the amount of duties, taxes and levies is collected, as well as the level of these contributions to the GDP. In the compliance area, the percentage of on-time income tax and VAT filing rate is calculated, as well as the positive rate of inspections based on risk profiling. In the service delivery area, we look at the percentage of satisfied Customers. To assess the implementation of services, we look at the percentage of registered operators using these services. Most of these KPIs were developed with the assistance of a consultant in collaboration with a project team lead by the BURS Strategy Office.

BURS also makes use of a Balanced Scorecard which defines and then links each business area to strategic objectives, targets, initiatives, and measures. The Scorecard is used to keep track of the execution of activities and to monitor the consequences arising from these actions. For example, under the section related to financial perspective, there is a strategic objective called “Maximize revenue collection” which is linked to KPIs, Measure, Baseline data, Target and Programmes. Business data are updated according to specific timelines and compare with target data, enabling the Strategy Office to monitor progress.

Automated data exchange at the international level

As long as the WCO Data Model and the Unique Consignment Reference are used, the CMS can also be interfaced with foreign IT systems to exchange data on agreed information fields. So far, BURS has such an arrangement with the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS) and the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA. The moto of this arrangement is “Your export is my import”.

By exchanging data, BURS and SARS have simplified the data reconciliation process used to determine trade statistics between their respective countries. These are essential for calculating the share of Customs and excise duties collected by Members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which has to be allocated to each of them[1]. Data discrepancy has been reduced.

Exchange of information with Zambia falls under the “One Stop Border Post” project where some of the data submitted to the export country is automatically transmitted to the import country for pre-clearance verification and risk management purposes.

Centralization of data related to non-intrusive inspection

BURS has several types of non-intrusive inspection equipment at its disposal:

  • fixed cargo scanners at major ports of entry,
  • mobile cargo scanners and
  • baggage scanners at the international airport.

In early 2020, BURS established an Image Analysis Centre where the images and data generated by the cargo scanners are analysed. When a declaration is routed for examination by the risk engine, the Customs officer in charge of the case will decide whether the cargo should be sent for scanning. If this is the case, the officer operating the scanner at the port of entry and the cargo handler will receive a notification through the IT system. The images and related data will then be transmitted to one of the Centre analysts, who will decide whether there is a need to perform a physical examination and transmit this information to the officer in charge of the case. At every step, data is generated electronically and flows from one Customs unit to the other.

By bringing all image analysts together, the Centre enables them to work closely as a unit and exchange expertise. Each member of the unit was trained on image analysis by an external consultants up to a “train the trainer” level with the aim to build internal training capacity.

Corridor Trip Monitoring System

Botswana is a landlocked country connecting the southern African hemisphere with central Africa. It is the transit hub for a high volume of cargo coming from, or going to, the Port of Durban in South Africa and the Port of Walvis Bay in Namibia.

Under the current COVID-19 regulations, commercial truck drivers should use designated transit routes and ports of exit, and should stay in the country only for a specific time. However, there have been cases where cargo has been diverted and drivers have stayed in the country more than the allowed time.

To enable efficient monitoring of the drivers and trucks, a regional electronic Corridor Trip Monitoring System has been developed for all Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). It allows regulatory and law enforcement agencies to record and monitor driver wellness data, such as COVID-19 test results. It also enable them to track the driver, crew and truck movements against pre-approved route plans.

The System was installed in 2021 at major border posts and is being rolled-out to other posts along the transit routes.

Reform Tracker

In terms of procedures, Botswana is focusing on the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (the WTO TFA). To monitor and track implementation progress of the Agreement provisions, a web-based platform was developed in 2021 with technical assistance from UNCTAD. The platform is used by the National Committee on Trade Facilitation (NCTF) to update and share progress on measures led by the various agencies taking part in the Committee. Currently, the NCTF is undertaking a gap analysis with each agency through online questionnaires created and managed through the Tracker. The tool is flexible and could be used to monitor progress of any initiative. However, work needs to be done to develop the tool’s analytical capabilities.

Mobile application to declare goods

In order to enable informal traders and travellers to declare goods to Customs via their mobile smart phone, BURS has developed a mobile application which is accessible on the Google Play Store. The objective is mainly to encourage them to submit declarations before they arrive at the border post and so reduce waiting times. A further objective is to enable border posts to manage human resources more efficiently and provide faster clearance, while ensuring that the submitted declarations are properly dealt with. Currently, the application is only open to informal traders but it will soon be accessible to individual travellers. Other categories of traders who have a deferred account with BURS can use the application solely to pay duties and taxes every month, when the payment is due.

Challenges

Like most organizations which have embarked on digitalizing and automating their processes and procedures, BURS is faced with challenges such as system interoperability and scalability. In some instances, the same system cannot be used for multiple tasks, or systems cannot interact or function with others. Sometimes, projects cannot be carried out due to a lack of regulation, or they require legislation to be amended.

In addition, one should not underestimate the importance of change management. Change must be seen as a process to be managed. For every project, steps should be taken to identify and plan what needs to be done to encourage everyone (Customs and other agency staff, traders and citizens) to adapt to and embrace the BURS new way of working. This is an area where BURS still needs to improve.

Conclusion

All the initiatives mentioned might seem to be baby steps, but they have brought quality benefits to the country. Traders have reported significant reductions in clearance times and costs. In its Doing Business Report published in 2020, the World Bank estimated that average clearance time for export formalities was 5 hours while the import time was 4 hours. Botswana was ranked rank 55 in the world and 3 in Africa. The report mentions the implementation of the new CMS and the introduction of scanners at ports of entries as the two measures having had major impact on trade facilitation.

All these initiatives need to be valued as they have enabled BURS staff to learn by doing and by reflecting on their experience. This is especially true for the officers working as developers and programmers in the IT division and for those working on the modernization programme in the Customs Services division. A culture of innovation has emerged within the organization. In other words, the working environment supports creative thinking and generates new or improved products, services and processes. These have been created cooperatively by bringing together various individuals, teams and partners with complementary ideas, knowledge, and skills. If BURS has not always been on the right track, at least it is on the learning track.

More information
mjimmy@burs.org.bw
www.burs.org.bw

[1] Customs and excise duties collected by SACU Members are put into a common revenue pool, which is later shared among them. The “sharing formula” compensate the Member State who imported more from other Members. The objective is to promote trade between SACU Members. Before calculating the revenue shares, statistics experts do a data reconciliation exercise during which the export value and volume from the exporting country is compared with the import value and volume of the importing country.