Govt clamps down on clearing agents

08 January 2021 | Business



The government is in the final stage of introducing more stringent rules that clearing agencies must meet in order to be licensed.

The move is aimed at curbing increasing incidents of money laundering, tax evasion and fraud, which cost the country millions in potential tax revenue.

Clearing agents act on behalf of importers and exporters and arrange customs clearance of imported goods.

There are currently 343 active clearing agencies in the country.

Until now, clearing agents were operating in the absence of clear guidelines and some have been caught under-declaring goods.

Under the new regime, it will be compulsory for clearing agents to register with the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) before registering with the Customs and Excise Directorate in the ministry of finance.

Licences will not be transferrable between agents and dry ports will from now on only be licensed to clear goods destined for dry ports.

Agents will from now on be expected to be in good standing with the tax man.

Clearing agents with operations outside Namibia will be banned and only those with offices in Namibia will be allowed to operate.

The mandate of the agents expired in December last year but their licences will remain valid until 31 March 2021. The new application process is under way.

Law and order

Ministry of finance spokesperson Tonateni Shidhudhu yesterday confirmed the changes to the clearing agency industry.

He said the changes were prompted after the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament found that clearing agents were operating without controls at the country's entry points.

“It was agreed in 2014 to review the existing requirements to ensure that the briefcase clearing agents could be ruled out to enhance effective cooperation with border agencies.

“These changes are for the benefit of the country and to a certain extent also needed to bring order in the clearing agency industry,” he said. Shidhudhu said provisions were made for multinational clearing agents. “We have had situations whereby the country lost out on tax revenue because some agents were under-declaring goods,” he said.

He indicated that the most common transgressions committed by clearing agents include misclassification of goods and wrong supporting documentation.

The government has over the years clamped down on clearing agencies and the last time such major changes were considered was in 2012 when the finance ministry banned clearing agents from using guarantees and bonds from third parties as security.

The decision was opposed by clearing agents because it meant they could no longer use a bond or guarantee issued to another clearing agent as security for their goods in transit.

Before the clampdown, clearing agents used to borrow guarantees or bonds, backed by financial or other institutions, from other clearing agents to clear any goods coming through Namport and destined for landlocked countries in SADC.