CAR importers and clearing agencies are up in arms with the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) over a new clearing system at ports of entry which they say has not only increased tariffs but is taking longer to process effectively destroying their businesses.
Some of the car dealers say they are now paying 60 percent more in import duties as a result of the new LRA regulations.
Three clearing agencies who import pre-owned cars from Japan this week told the Lesotho Times in separate interviews that the new clearing system, which they say was introduced without prior consultations by the LRA in December 2017, had also bred mistrust as clients blamed them for the resultant delays in receiving their imported vehicles.
According to Mokhali Mofubetsoana, a Phoka Clearing and Forwarding Agency representative, the clearing of cars which used to be done before the vehicles reached the border was now being done only when they had arrived at the border and they were being charged higher taxes.
“We normally do pre-clearance but early in December they (LRA) introduced what they call top-up where they evaluate the imported cars again when they arrive at the border and then add an extra charge,” Mr Mofubetsoana said.
“The changes were not communicated to us beforehand so we do not know the basis for the higher taxes. The extra charges have negatively affected our business in that we can no longer give people the exact quotes which let them know exactly how much it will cost them to import cars from Japan.
“On top of that, some clients now think we are intentionally delaying the arrival of their cars which used to take about five weeks to get to Maseru. Now it can take even double that time on top of the extra charges we are now incurring.”
Joel Mohale of Flying King Clearing Agency said their business was falling apart because clients had lost confidence in them as they could not understand why it now took more than two months to get their cars.
“Our trucks that bring cars from the Durban port (in South Africa) get stuck at the (Maseru) border and as we speak, I have two truckloads that have been at the Maseru border since Friday.
“These trucks that we hire to bring cars would normally immediately return to Durban to collect more cars but that is no longer possible and we are even incurring unnecessary storage charges due to the delays. I also have cars that arrived on 15 December last year but they are still at the LRA warehouse awaiting clearance.
“We have met with them (LRA) on several occasions but no convincing explanation was given to us. What I learned is that this is one of their strategies to reach their tax collection targets which they have been missing.
“This is killing our business…We do not know how to explain it all to our customers. Other customers have even gone to the extent of threatening to shoot us saying we embezzled their money for they do not understand why it now takes over two months to get their cars.”
Another agent, Thapelo Makhahlela of TMM Holdings, said while they understood the need for the LRA to discharge its mandate of collecting taxes, the revenue authority had to be efficient and avoid the delays which were affecting their relationships with clients.
“This system was introduced without any prior notification and we only found out about it when the cars got to the border and additional taxes were demanded. We fail to understand this as we have regular meetings with the LRA but these changes have never been officially communicated to us.
“The other problem is that when the cars are evaluated, LRA officials never ask for the auction sheets or proofs of payments from us. They simply assess the cars by merely looking at them and just charge taxes that come to their minds at that time.
“We are not against the work of the LRA but they are destroying our businesses by taking a very long time to clear our cars. The clients do not understand what is going on and they are very angry with us,” he said.
Despite several attempts, this publication had still not obtained comment from the LRA at the time of going to print yesterday.
LRA Public Relations Manager, Pheello Mphana, said he was not at work and provided another number only for this reporter to be told by the lady who answered the phone that she was not the right person to respond to questions.
She promised to find someone who would phone back to comment on the matter but had not done so yesterday while her phone also rang unanswered. The Lesotho Times will publish the LRA’s side of the story as soon as it is availed.