Marcos Miguel

Mozambique Revenue Authority Launches Excise Stamps

On 17 March 2017, the Mozambique Revenue Authority (MRA) introduced a requirement for excise stamps on alcohol beverages and tobacco products pursuant to laws and regulations adopted to establish procedures for sealing alcohol beverages and tobacco manufactured products subject to excise duties. The revised law and regulations mandate the process of sealing beverages and manufactured tobacco for every producer, importer, supplier, and user, including enforcement agents.

The Challenges of E-Commerce Regulation for Tax Policy in Africa

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) defines electronic commerce (e-commerce) as “commercial activities conducted through an exchange of information generated, stored or communicated by electronic optical or analogs means…” With e-commerce now accounting for 80 percent of all global commerce[1], there is an urgent need to regulate these transactions to meet tax policy objectives of broadening the tax base and eliminating erosion. Taxing e-commerce will ensure equal treatment of national production and imports of the same product in order to avoid market distortion. The lack of a standard legal framework can lead to double taxation or double non-taxation; and different regimes for taxation of electronic goods sold electronically and sales of national products in the non-electronic market can distort overall market equity.

The main question revolving around the taxation of e-commerce business transactions is how to establish a general policy for e-commerce and specific tax regimes to ensure no loss of revenue in duties and taxes, including regulation of the market share between electronic imports and local production.

Fragmentation of business activities should derivate from the original definition of e-commerce, with an increased use of the internet to facilitate transactions involving the production, distribution, sale, and delivery of goods and services in the marketplace. To achieve a straightforward and undistorted tax policy, this needs to be complemented by an agreed categorization of goods and services involved in e-commerce transactions to determine which goods and services are targeted by the law and which are not.

African countries have significantly lagged behind in the e-commerce technological revolution, due in large part to weak infrastructure, high cost of the internet, narrow coverage of the network (including the quality of internet service), and lack of electricity. In 2013, a study by the International Telecommunications Union reported that only 9.8% of the African market was using the internet,[2] and in 2014, Africa ranked next to last, with just 1.3% of global business-to-business e-commerce spending.[3]

The use of “mobile money” (payment services performed via a mobile device) is really the only e-payment experience for goods and services across the continent. The challenge for African countries is to achieve a balance between expansion of financial services and taxation of small businesses that use mobile money.

African countries’ ability to benefit from e-commerce is dependent on the evolution of technology. The best African experience on innovation and technology was the launch of the Kenya pad for M-Pesa, a transformative mobile phone-based platform for money transfer and financial services in 2007. Since then, M-Pesa has experienced explosive growth -- in 2013, 43% of Kenya´s GDP flowed through M-Pesa, with 237 million person-to-person transactions.

M-Pesa’s success is due in large part to the financial inclusion of a range of services, including money deposit and withdrawal, remittance delivery, bill payment, and micro-credit provision, thus allowing groups that typically have limited access to formal financial services to benefit from the financial services offered through M-Pesa.

While still a growing phenomenon in developing economies, mobile payments have been especially successful in markets where consumers without bank accounts have been able to take advantage of new mobile infrastructure to improve their financial standing.

At this stage, the main question for African countries is whether to expand their internet network and aim to tax e-commerce activities, or to invest their scarce resources to regulate the taxation of mobile money transactions (which are already thriving). The best approach should result in investment in both areas, taking into account an anticipated growth in e-commerce transactions in Africa that will accompany an increase in the African population (which, according to the United Nations, is expected to reach 2.4 billion by 2050).

Extensive future demand for e-commerce facilities in Africa is both a business opportunity and a great challenge for revenue authorities, who should develop appropriate taxation strategies in terms of investment and readiness.

[1] Clayton W.Chan  - Taxation of Global E-commerce on internet: underlining issues and proposed Plan

[2] The International Telecommunications Union statistics showing internet users by region as of July 1, 2013 give the market percentages as Asia (48.4%), America North and South (21.8%), Europe (19%), Africa (9.8%), and Oceania (3.0%).

[3] The Asia-Pacific region led the global business-to-business e-commerce spending with 39.6%, followed by Europe (29.2%); North America (26.9%); Latin America (1.9%); Other, including Africa (1.3%); and MENA (1.1%). Source: ©statista 2016

The Basis for the Harmonization of VAT and Excise Taxes in SADC

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) aims to become a Free Trade Area, Customs Union, Common Market, and Monetary Union through the introduction of the single currency, with support for regional integration by Member States utilizing the basic elements of fiscal policy coordination and harmonization. VAT coordination among Member States will ensure uniform treatment in the taxation of Member States' goods and services; limit the occurrence of tax fraud; and control imports/exports and management of information on cross-border transactions.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Taxation and Related Matters and the Protocol on Finance and Investment are two instruments that will help support the coordination of fiscal policies in the SADC. However, for easy implementation, bilateral agreements between Member States are recommended.

Coordinated Management of Mozambique’s Borders: Challenges for Implementation

On January 26, 2016, the World Customs Organization (WCO) celebrated 64 years of representing customs administrations (now numbering 180 and accounting for approximately 98% of international trade). The WCO promotes the use of information and communication technologies by customs administrations and other stakeholders under the motto: "Digital Customs: Progressive Engagement." Customs authorities in Mozambique began using information technologies in 1997 with the Trade Information System (TIMS), and Mozambique upgraded to the Single Electronic Window in 2011. The Single Electronic Window currently processes 90% of import and export declarations.

This article focuses on operationalizing the agreements on one-stop border posts that Mozambique has with neighbouring countries South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Mozambique participates in the implementation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Finance and Investment Protocol.

These agreements aim to facilitate regional trade through procedures to enhance speed, convenience, simplicity, safety, and interaction among the border control institutions.

The concept of coordinated border management arises from the current customs challenges posed by the increased flow of commercial transactions combined with increased illicit trade and transnational crime. The efficiency and effectiveness of both key aspects of Customs work can be achieved only if the various entities that control the borders carry out their activities in a coordinated manner.

The WCO dedicated 2015 to Coordinated Border Management to encourage customs administrations to promote partnerships to improve goods processing at borders, namely among Customs, Immigration, Police, and Border Guards, as well as Health, Veterinary, Agricultural and other officials.

The concept of coordinated border management is built on two dimensions.  The horizontal aspect involves sharing the same information among all institutions performing compliance checks at the borders. The vertical perspective ensures that all government employees operating on the border share the same procedures and policies.

This concept also has a national and an international dimension, both in terms of coordinating among national institutions and promoting cooperation between customs authorities of different countries. Information sharing between national customs and customs of neighbouring countries currently lacks a systems compatibility check, so this too is an important aspect to be taken into account.

The implementation of one-stop border posts ultimately requires the adoption of common policies and strategies between countries that share a common border.  The core components should include the priority lines of action, deadlines, budget for infrastructure, and relevant training programs, and every component of the fight against smuggling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism financing, and other forms of fraud.

This has in turn required the sharing of intelligence when there is a need to carry out joint operations. Additionally, there is also a need for skills transfer to ensure that all countries and agencies have the relevant expertise. The exchange of experience to support training of officials can occur between South Africa and its neighbouring countries.

The SADC emphasizes the coordination of the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (SARPCCO) and the creation of the Single Clearance Point at Border Posts at all border crossings, by agreement with neighbouring countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe). This consists of a one-stop post through which foreign tourist visas are processed in each entry border by joint teams with final approval given on the South Africa side of the border. This streamlined process was applied to issue visas to 309,554 foreign visitors arriving in South Africa to attend the 2010 World Cup.

Coordinated border management introduces an innovative approach that breaks with the traditional model of border management. The modern approach is supported by information and communication technologies for verification of visas in passports, electronic clearance of goods, electronic verification of registration of cars, etc. This represents a series of steps in moving from the paper-based process to e-border customs management.

To achieve efficiency for government institutions, I recommend maximizing the use of information technologies for information sharing and to improve management processes that can benefit from modernization.

The adoption of the SADC Finance and Investment Protocol helps to improve the efficiency of financial institutions of SADC member countries when it comes to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. In border control, particular attention should be given to the the facilitation of regional trade to promote regional development corridors, with a view toward implementing the SADC Customs Union.

The other important component to coordinated border management is the relationship between customs authorities and risk management practices. Risk management allows Customs to select imports and exports suspected of containing merchandise to find evidence of fraud through scanning and physical inspection where applicable.

The use of risk management requires creating and sharing a database on imports and exports with the SADC member states. In the case of a suspicious container, an electronic alert in the system would go off so that authorities can intervene. Information sharing between countries should be extended to all import and export declarations and should be accessible to all employees assigned to the one-stop office. And modernizations such as biometric passports should improve the detection of counterfeit or stolen passports as well.

The Government of Mozambique must now determine the key next steps for coordinated border management among national institutions, allocating both human and financial resources, building appropriate infrastructure and properly training human resources.

Particular attention should be devoted to English language training for national staff, and training of foreign border officials in Portuguese to better understand the documents, legislation and other necessary elements. Bilingual functionality can obviate the requirement for translation of authentic documents and increase public trust.

The centrepiece of this concept is effective information sharing, flowing from top to bottom (vertically) and across institutions (horizontally). Building trust and better collaboration across teams requires employees to know their responsibilities and those of other employees in other institutions. This can be aided by a detailed internal procedures manual for government institutions to improve clarity and consistency and eliminate duplication of procedures.

Rather than immediately allocating human and material resources, member states involved in coordinated border management agreements should initiate a change-management process first, which can be accomplished by setting up joint teams across institutions and across borders, through a series of seminars.

Taken together, these steps can facilitate regional trade, promote development corridors, maintain security, and reduce illicit trade, all of which helps to achieve a balance between trade facilitation and enforcement controls.


*Marcos Miguel is a Customs Senior Officer at the Mozambique Revenue Authority (MRA). He holds an MBA in Customs Management awarded by ESAMI (Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute). He contributed this article as follow-up to his participation in the Africa Tax Dialogue held in Maputo, Mozambique in November 2015. His MBA discussed “The integration of Single Electronic Window and e-Taxation to improve regulatory compliance and service delivery at MRA."