SMALL-scale businesses, popularly known as ‘order with me’ businesses, say the seizure of their goods by the Namibia Revenue Agency (Namra) is robbing them of their livelihoods.
This comes as Namra has confirmed that imports worth over N$680 million linked to ‘order with me’ businesses were recorded from April to 12 December this year.
Namra has pocketed N$23 million from these imports in tax revenue.
In the past nine months, SMEs have imported mostly cellphones, routers, waist trainers, handbags, clothing, hair, and wallets for resale in Namibia.
The majority of the goods were imported from China.
During an engagement with Namra yesterday, frustrated clearing agents and SME importers said when their goods are confiscated at customs, they suffer huge losses, since they are forced to refund customers for their orders.
SME importer ‘John’ said 45 customers have in the past ordered T-shirts valued at about N$80 000 with him, but Namra confiscated his entire consignment.
He said he now has to refund his customers for items in Namra’s possession.
“This is the most painful part of our lives. We don’t want to be thieves and we don’t want to be hungry sitting at home like other people. But at the end of the day, we are being victimised by the system,” John said.
He said while he understands businesses should be corrected and educated when they are in the wrong, Namra’s approach is unacceptable.
“When we are doing business, we have a reason. We have kids to take care of, we have big families, and we have to take care of ourselves,” he said.
Another ‘order with me’ operator, Nestor Jeremiah, yesterday said Namra customs officials do not provide them with reasons why their goods are confiscated.
He said Namra should provide them with documentation they can show their customers.
“Our customers end up taking us to the police station and a case is opened against us, because they think we ate up their money, or we didn’t order their goods and are scamming them,” Jeremiah said.
SME importer ‘Jessica’ said goods are confiscated randomly.
“It is based on the customs official at the time . . . I don’t understand how I am losing my Adidas order, and another person receives the same item,” she said.
She said when parcels are returned from customs they are in a poor condition.
‘AS PER THE LAW’
Meanwhile, Namra cannot provide the value or quantity of goods confiscated from SME importers.
Namra commissioner Sam Shivute said Namra confiscates counterfeit goods as per the law.
He said the agency will not confiscate items which have been imported legally.
Shivute said all counterfeit goods which have been confiscated since 1991 are destroyed on an annual basis.
However, since the Namra era, he said, no goods have been confiscated and are donated rather.
Shivute said one major challenge and reason why some items are flagged at customs is the undervaluation of goods, as close to 60% of the goods are undervalued.
“Say you are bringing in a consignment of N$100 million, you say it is worth N$10 000 to avoid paying customs duty to that amount. When those goods are confiscated, the law provides that within 90 days a penalty will be issued.”
Shivute said when the penalty is too high, some business owners forfeit the goods to the state.
He said another reason why clothing brands are flagged is when high-end luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton or Gucci are priced low. He said these items are confiscated, upon which Namra approaches the brand’s rightholder to confirm their originality.
“When you are trading in counterfeit goods, it could also be a criminal offence,” Shivute said.
The commissioner called on importers to expose customs officials who are involved in corrupt activities.
Also speaking at the engagement was Namibia’s ambassador to China, Elia Kaiyamo, who urged ‘order with me’ operators to find business opportunities via the Chinese embassy or through the government instead of with Chinese individuals on the street.
Namra’s engagement with ‘order with me’ SMEs yesterday follows protests at China Town led by activists aligned with the Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters and the Affirmative Repositioning movement and their subsequent arrest in May.
The protests were fuelled by the destruction of confiscated ‘order with me’ goods to the value of N$5 million, which were allegedly illegally imported by Namibian entrepreneurs.
The destroyed items included clothes, shoes, perfumes and bags. In the same month, SMEs took to the streets to demonstrate against the alleged importation of counterfeit products by foreigners.
The protesters demanded that Namra seize the goods of Chinese shop owners, claiming they are counterfeit items.