SMALL business operators, commonly known as ‘order with me’ entrepreneurs, have lashed out over paperwork requirements before importing cellphones and other telecommunications gadgets.
This comes as the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) and the Namibia Revenue Agency (Namra) have teamed up to crack down on cellphones and other communications devices imported without proper paperwork.
The agreement between the two entities, announced last week, means that companies or individuals would be obliged to obtain a type approval certificate prior to importing or exporting any telecommunications device.
The move has, however, not been received well by individuals who order cellphones in bulk from destinations such as China for resale in Namibia.
One such individual is Ritha Shintango, who says she and many of her colleagues would suffer business losses as there is no guarantee that they would be able to obtain the type approval.
“This move will definitely affect everyone in the ‘order with me’ business. Most who are doing this are students and literally survive on that. Rent is being paid from that money. Food and toiletries are being bought from that side hustle,” she says.
Shintango says she has some orders placed already and is waiting for delivery, adding that if her devices are confiscated by customs officials, she would be in trouble with her clients who have ordered and paid in advance.
“I would have to refund all those who ordered phones with me, since I can’t deliver their phones,” she says.
Shintango says during a meeting with the ‘order with me’ operators last year, Namra warned that the serial numbers of the phones they import should match the serial numbers registered at Namra.
“In the meeting, they pointed out that our serial numbers should match theirs for us to order those phones from China. That won’t work at all. Maybe they should work on something else,” she says.
Another cellphone importer, Hilma Taddeus, says the move itself is not bad, since entrepreneurs should have proper documents for their businesses.
However, she says, once devices are confiscated, their businesses would be destroyed.
“One would be forced back into unemployment,” she says.
In 2022, Namra announced that imports worth over N$680 million linked to ‘order with me’ businesses were recorded from April to 12 December.
Namra pocketed N$23 million from these imports in tax revenue.
In those nine months, agents imported mostly cellphones, routers, waist trainers, handbags, clothing, hair and wallets for resale in Namibia.
Meanwhile, registered importers say the type approval requirement has always been there and doesn’t necessarily concern them.
“We have been following the type approval requirements for years now. It is a lot of paperwork, since you have to have paperwork for each individual phone you want to import, but yes, we have been doing this for years,” a manager at a well-known local electronics importing business says on condition of anonymity.
Cran chief executive officer Emilia Nghikembua says the purpose of type approval is to ensure that telecommunications equipment used in Namibia comply with international standards, and that substandard equipment, which may present health and safety hazards to consumers, and which are incompatible with local networks, are not operated in the country.
“The type approval regulations ensure that the general operating frequency of telecommunications equipment and in particular the radio apparatus are in conformance with the national frequency band plan of Namibia to avoid interference with essential services,” Nghikembua says.
Namra commissioner Sam Shivute last week described the signing of an agreement last year with Cran as a great opportunity to promote coordination in the importation of telecommunications equipment and collaboration between the two institutions.
He said traders would benefit from the agreement as information would be made available to them.
A working committee will be established to ensure the implementation of the agreement.
The Namibian has sent questions to Cran to provide more details on the agreement with Namra, but have not received a response at the time of going to print.
Namra spokesperson Tonateni Shidhudhu said their only role is to clear goods at customs, while Cran handles regulatory issues.