On the third floor of Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) headquarters in Kimihurura, a City of Kigali suburb, modern flat screens beam images of cargo trucks as they enter, transit and exit Rwanda. Beside the screens is a Google map with a tracker of Rwanda’s two main routes to and from the sea—the Northern and Central corridors—tracking the movement of trucks carrying Rwanda bound and transit cargo.
This is the Central Monitoring Centre (CMC), the watchtower of RRA’s newly installed Electronic Cargo Tracking System (eCTs). The eCTs is a web-based system used to monitor transit cargo from the point of entry to the exit in order to improve its safety and promote fair terms of trade by eliminating offloading of undeclared goods on the Rwandan market. The system will reduce the cost of doing business by reducing transit time, enhancing cargo safety and helping traders to better predict arrival of goods.
Funded by TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) through a grant from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID),the system will be launched in March 2017 and will add to on-going efforts to reduce the cost of doing business in the region, through improved cargo predictability, increased truck turn-around time that will ultimately lead to lower transport costs.
Transport delays and cargo theft are among the key concerns to importers and exporters who have been forced to pay high insurance cover for goods on transit, adding to the already high costs of doing business in the country. With improved security of cargo, Rwandan importers can expect reduction in transit risk, leading to a decline in insurance premiums and ultimately reduction in transport costs. It is expected that lower costs of importing goods will trickle down to consumers in form of reduced prices of goods in the long term.
How it works
Using advanced technology such as electronic seals fixed on trucks, officers manning the CMC can detect any illegal activity when a seal is tampered with or when a truck carrying the goods deviates from geo-mapped route.
This is possible because the seal is loaded with important information about the truck such as the type of cargo it is carrying, driver’s details, truck details, container details, origin and the route it is supposed to travel to the final destination. Any tampering with the electronic seal or deviation from the defined route automatically sends alerts to the CMC and the RRA Rapid Response Unit stationed at the nearest post is promptly alerted by the CMC to take action. Using a navigation system on a tablet, officers can trace a problem to the exact spot and both audio and video images re-rayed to the CMC from the scene.
In addition to improving safety of cargo, the eCTs will eliminate some of the loopholes in regional Customs laws that prescribe weak punishment for violation of customs procedures, partly blamed for smuggling. This is not only costing government millions of francs in tax revenue, but also threatens to drive out of business some tax compliant importers due to unfair competition.
Under the East African Community Customs Management Act, an exporter or importer who deliberately breaks customs seal is fined $2,500 irrespective of the value of the taxes such a trader attempted to evade. RRA officials say that such non-deterrent punishment often encourages non-compliance.
Indeed, figures show that despite previous efforts to promote fair trade, illegal cargo continues to enter the country through physical smuggling and technical violation of customs/transit procedures where tax evaders offload into the market goods not declared to customs.
The eCTs will deal with this problem through real time monitoring and use of CCTV cameras to be installed at customs offices to minimize possible connivance between customs officers and traders; Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) devices that capture number plates of trucks as they enter or exit; as well as seals fixed on trucks to deter offloading of goods destined for another country.
For example, when a cargo truck enters or exits Rwanda, CCTV cameras beam to the CMC images to ascertain that the seal has not been tampered with. Images of the number plates are also captured and sent to the CMC as one of the measures to minimize connivance by customs officers and transporters offload cargo declared as on transit in Rwanda.
According to Alex Shyaka, eCTs project manager at RRA, when drivers are aware that they are being monitored, they will do everything quickly and according to procedure. This reduces time wasting because the system sends an alert when a truck stays in a particular spot longer than needed. Importers who wish to monitor the movement of their goods can do so and this can help them know the exact time their goods would reach the market.
On the other hand, customs officials may not have any excuse to delay validating bonds because all evidence about the arrival of trucks is captured in the system and can be retrieved any moment it is required. “When bond cancellation process is quick, it frees them for use on another consignment”, says Fred Seka, the Chairman to the Association of Clearing and Forwarding Agents.
In Uganda where eCTs is already in use since 2014 through TMEA funding, the system helped traders cut the time required to transport cargo from entry border points (Malaba and Busia) from six days to one day and a half; subsequently pushing down transport costs. Transporters lose $200-$250 each day a truck spends while on transit and the cost of transport tends to increase for cargo destined further inland such as Rwanda.
eCTs in Uganda has also removed the need for physical escorts that previously increased transit period from one day to 3-4 days, effectively resulting into an estimated increase in transport costs of about $400 -$500.
“The ECTs is one of the many initiatives that TradeMark East Africa is supporting to ease and improve trade in East Africa”, explains Jackie Zizane, TMEA Programme Manager. “The system will not only enhance trade competitiveness through improved security of cargo along transit routes but also promote information exchange among the Revenue Authorities and the trading community”.