Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) faces allegations of bleeding millions of pula from government coffers by procuring ineffective and impractical systems to curb smuggling of goods into the country.
Inside sources says the taxman has spent over P100 million on such systems in the last 10 years and that this money has only added to estimated billions lost annually in contraband.
It is said some of the systems that BURS has procured over the years includes scanners, customs management systems (CMS), and most recently, a track-and trace-system from a company in the United States that won the contract to implement the system for 10 years.
Scanners that hardly work
Although BURS would not share the actual cost of these systems, The Gazette is reliably informed that two scanners, which were bought in 2012, were valued at approximately P43 million. One was placed at Tlokweng Border Post, one at Gabcon in Gaborone.
Sources say these scanners are useless for detecting contraband. It is said they fail to stop smugglers because they effectively operate during normal working hours of 07:30hrs to 16:30hrs when they should operate from 06:00hrs to 00:00hrs. Numerous concerns have reportedly been raised with the authorities but no action has been taken.
Systems failure at most border posts
Implementation of the CMS is also said to have gobbled up several millions of pula. The role of the system was to enhance customs-related transactions at Botswana borders and was introduced to replace the old ASYCUDA++ (Automated System for Customs Data) from 1st January 2017. However, inside sources say the system is not functional at most border posts, resulting in much contraband coming through.
Just recently in July, BURS entered into a controversial 10-year deal with US-based company, Authentix, for fiscal markings and digital tracking solutions for tobacco and alcohol products sold in Botswana.
The merit of the deal has been questioned by Business Botswana and the Alcohol Industry Association, both of which unsuccessfully demanded research and evidence that led to procurement of the system when much cheaper and less complicated ways of tackling the problem exist.
Even so, BURS has already stated that the system will be implemented in the near future. The American company is expected to rake in billions of pula under the contract, with Botswana importing an estimated 500 million alcohol and tobacco units per year. For the next 10 years, Authentix will be responsible for tracking each and every unit for a fee.
The Botswana Gazette is informed that the deal has divided tax administrators at BURS because some believe that implementation of the system will only make tax compliance more complex and bring about unintended consequences for the alcohol and tobacco industries and the economy as a whole.
Significantly, it is alleged that the deal was done without the input of the BURS Compliance Division, which is responsible for policing and enforcing tax compliance.
While the Commissioner General, Jeanette Makgolo, previously told this publication that everything is above board, BURS Head of Communications, Mable Bolele, had not responded to Gazette inquiries at the time of going to press last night two weeks after she received them.