Customs in race to clear paperwork as online shift looms

The Kenya Ports Authority’s container terminal. FILE
Containers at the KPA’s container terminal. Kenya plans to shift to online cargo clearing platform by October. FILE 

Customs officials are racing against time to clear pending documents as the deadline for eliminating paperwork at ports and border points draws near.

The Kenya Revenue Authority’s (KRA) online platform (ORBUS system) is set to collapse in October immediately the national electronic single window system goes live.

At the moment, documents such as import declaration form (IDF) and import permits are kept in the ORBUS system which can only be accessed by clearing agents and KRA employees using passwords.

“The instruction is that we clear all documents pending in the ORBUS by end of October because from November, documents such as IDF and permits will only be processed through the national single window,” a source at KRA said on Friday.

The first phase of national single window platform seeks to integrate the electronic systems of all players involved in the cargo clearance process such as KRA, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and Kenya Ports Authority.

Later, the system will be enhanced to link it to banks to enable traders to complete every bit of the international trade transaction, including payment, online.

“The agencies will retain their role, but everything will be done through the single window system as opposed to visiting every entity,” says Kentrade, a State corporation which is developing the national electronic single window system.

Unlike the ORBUS system which is only available to customs officers and clearing agents, individual importers and exporters will be able to obtain documents by logging into the national window system, reducing time taken to clear goods.

The Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa), a lobby for clearing, forwarding and warehousing companies has been participating in the single window planning workshops, despite earlier concerns that efficiency at ports could render some its members jobless.

“Our members are fully aware of single window system and we support it as a tool which can enhance trade if properly established and implemented”, Kifwa chairman Boaz Makomere said on Friday.

Kentrade officials have been conducting sensitisation training across the country to familiarise various players with the new system for trade clearance.

Last month, Kentrade officials brought forward the date for switch-over to the national single window system to October, three months earlier than the December deadline imposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kentrade officials said the new system would reduce Mombasa port cargo clearance time from an average of 10 days to three while freight handling time would drop at the airports to just 24 hours from five days at the moment.

By cutting delays in clearance, the government also stands to save about Sh27 billion lost annually due to cargo delays at the Mombasa port, airports and border entry points, says Kentrade chairman Joseph Kibwana.

The crash programme for the implementation of the single window system coincides with a race by Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to set up a single customs territory (SCT).

Under the SCT planned by the three East African states, goods ordered by traders from any of the countries will be cleared at the first port of entry into the region such as Mombasa port or Oluhura and Mpondwe border points.

The KRA headquarters has dispatched its head of customs to the port of Mombasa for a period of three months to oversee the changes required before Rwandan and Ugandan customs officers move in.

Among other things, the SCT require interfacing of the electronic systems by the Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.