29 April 2021 –
The joint legislative Public Account Committee (PAC) on Wednesday resumed hearings into audits commissioned by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) with the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) appearing first amongst a host of institutions that are expected to appear.
According to Senator Emmanuel Nuquay of Margibi County who chair the PAC, the committee is focused on conducting hearing for audits of heads of institutions who are currently in their position and will later deal with audits involving past officials of Government.
The GAC audit is a performance audit on Customs Cargo Clearance at Seaports and land borders for Fiscal Years 2016/2017 through 2018/2019. This audit was conducted in line with the Auditor General’s statutory mandate as enshrined under Section 2.1.3 of the GAC Act of 2014.
The LRA mandates
The LRA has developed its strategic and business plans and targets to ensure cargos are released timely and that customs procedures are simplified for importers who use various ports of entry in Liberia. However, there continues to be underlying issues with customs cargo clearance at seaports and land borders despite all of the measures the Liberia Revenue Authority has implemented.
The Liberia Revenue Authority is responsible to facilitate legitimate trade, customs clearance through borders and social protection through policies and procedures that promote efficiency, simplicity that enhance taxpayer compliance in Liberia.
What did the audit reveal?
The audit revealed that the Freeport of Monrovia uses the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) which is a computerized system designed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to administer a country’s customs. ASYCUDA is used for all steps in the cargo clearing processes. However, there are manual processes that include the stamping and signing of paper documents that burden customs procedure.
The audit discovered that cargo/good imported in Liberia passes through long customs bureaucracies before it is cleared from sea and borders ports. Furthermore, it was established that the processes in clearing cargo are repeated by other agencies of government.
Customs Department of LRA is responsible to develop and maintain standards, guidelines and apply modern techniques and technology to facilitate and ensure simplification and harmonization of customs procedures.
Considering the involvement of other agencies of government in the inspection of cargo before clearance at land borders, the auditor noticed deviation from the published customs procedures at land borders includes; procedures that are different from the official procedures published by the Customs Department as the result of other government agency involvement include;
Separate examination by all of the agencies Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), Liberia National Police (LNP), National Security Agency (NSA), Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Agriculture that are assigned at these borders when said examination should be coordinated by customs at one location and;
“The policy of paying 4% on goods, if Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF) is more than US$110.00 and if the consignee does not have business registration- according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Guide on Operating Business in Liberia, a Presumptive Tax of four percent (4%) is due no later than 15 days after each quarter. This is applicable to Small business whose gross annual sales are $LD 200,000.00 – LD3, 000,000.00.
“Paying the amount of US$20.00 for ECOWAS brown card when bringing vehicle into the country. The ECOWAS Brown Card Scheme was established by Protocol A/P1/5/82 signed by the Head of States and Governments on 29th May 1982 in Cotonou (Benin Republic).”
Lack of automated system at major Land borders visited
The LRA Customs Department objective 4.1 is to deploy and operationalize modern revenue administration technology to improve compliance and attained effectiveness. Furthermore, Section 4.1.6 states that rural and urban field offices (CBOs) should reliably connect to core business system (LRA Headquarters) through mobile connection points and other available management information systems infrastructure.
All the five major rural land borders visited within Liberia lack the automated system (ASYCUDA) to determine importer’s bills per the price list for custom payment. As a result, customs cargo clearance procedures and calculations are done manually which could lead to declaration being understated or overstated by consignees resulting to inaccurate customs duty to government or overpayment by consignees.
Poor Security for Cargo at Land borders
The Customs Department is responsible to facilitate legitimate trade and customs clearance through borders and social protection, through policy and procedures that promote efficiency, simplified and enhance taxpayer’s compliance. Customs authorities also serve as semi security apparatus for borders protection in carrying out their responsibility. Therefore, the Customs Department is required to provide security for goods imported into Liberia.
The GAC recommended that the Customs Department of the Liberia Revenue Authority ensures cargo clearance processes is streamlined to enable importers receive their goods within the minimum time requires;
That the LRA significantly review the customs cargo clearance processes and align interagency mandate to avoid replicated customs cargo clearance process.
The GAC also recommended that LRA considers installing cargo/goods scanning camera system similar to the luggage scan that are used at international airports. Customs and other government agencies will scan cargo to check whether the content matches the cargo description and whether the cargo is illegal, thus eliminating the several handling stages employed currently;
Ensure that officials assigned at land borders are following the standards set for monitoring activities effectively during cargo clearance; and Accurately disseminate new information and policies on cargo clearance to stakeholders that are actively involves in the clearing of cargo;
Ensure that stakeholders meet the necessary requirements and equipment to enhance their functions in the clearing process.