Implementing a single window in Botswana: the journey ahead

Joseph T. Willie
According to the UN/CEFACT Recommendation 33 (UN/ECE 2005), the purpose of a single window is to provide a platform and processes for a paperless (electronic) exchange of trade information between participants in the trade process, largely accomplished through a single electronic lodgment.  

Pressure to implement single window is building up domestically and internationally. The business community under Business Botswana, a private sector organisation functioning as Chamber of Commerce, employer organisation and business representative body sees trade expansion, efficiencies, and increased revenue collection by government as benefits of a successful single window. Various actors of the global supply chains Botswana plays a role in are demanding more efficient government licensing and customs processes, together with faster, more efficient movement of goods through port and terminal operations to improve national import and export performance. And they see the single window as the platform that could help achieving all of this.  

A single window is made up from an organic mixture of the collaborative efforts of all the parties involved in a nation’s international trade activities. It uses the latest ICT techniques, including international data and messaging standards and simplified, harmonized and remodeled information systems for data exchange, to replace traditional paper-based information. It also deploys sophisticated rules and procedures for funding, governance, business and marketing models, planning and project management, and for effective collaboration between all of the parties involved in the single window, at each of its stages.  

Current status of the single window for trade facilitation in Botswana 

Botswana as well as other members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) are still following the traditional cross-border trade, where different government departments and agencies manage different areas of regulation. That is to say, Customs, Plant and Animal Quarantine Agencies, Sanitary & Phytosanitary Inspection Agencies, Food Safety Agencies, Border Policing and Transport departments maintain presence at the border posts or terminals and manage their respective areas of competence.   

These organizational units manage their respective government programs at the border posts, whereas in some cases the Customs is delegated to execute some duties. Effectively, each program has its own finances to sustain it over a period of one-year financial period. This budgeting mechanism leads to the creation of programme-specific human and technical resources, with organizational structures and service delivery mechanisms that are meant to support trader and transport logistics activities.   

Furthermore, due to lack of sharing information among these agencies, an undesirable situation for traders exists in the form of repetitive agricultural and veterinary inspections, controllers of drugs & pharmaceuticals, all providing the same information to different government agencies. Consequently, multiple inspections are usually carried out by these agencies at different points in time, resulting in delays at the border.  

Botswana business community hopes that the proposed Single Window concept will examine regulatory controls through the standpoint of the business, reviewing all interactions between trade and regulatory agencies without regard for the internal divisions within government.   

This proposed approach should bring out all the procedural redundancies, duplication in the filling of information and wastefulness involved in the overall effort in fulfilling cross-border regulation. From this analytical assessment they arise a set of solutions that may greatly simplify government-trade interface by reorienting procedures and reorganizing regulatory data requirements. However, sadly, this single window concept has not been embraced enthusiastically by the leadership both in the Business Community and in government organizations.   

The use of different terms for Single Window concept is important because of the scope they suggest. “International Trade Single Window” conveys the sense of it being an omnibus facility for trade. Exchange between participants in an international trade transaction covers processes from the discovery of products and trade partners, shipment and dispatch, regulatory clearance at the border to the payment for the traded goods. The context in which trade transactions occur must be kept in mind but essentially, we are discussing only about Cross-border Regulatory Single Window, where regulatory formalities are the focus.   

The distinction between a portal for trade or transport transactions and the cross-border regulatory Single Window is clear as the former falls in the category of Business to Business (B2B) facility and the latter is Business to Government (B2G) facility.    

Based on the above scenario, collaboration between Customs and other partners are important for the national Single Window for Botswana. Such collaboration can also occur between national governments (through bilateral agreements), with a view to further simplifying trade procedures and the international data flows. Basically, data on a cross-border transaction originates in the country of origin as goods are transported through the country of transit and reach the country of destination. It is brought under the controls applied by the different national governments and points to the need for collaboration in order to enhance capacities for control for all participants. For instance, the governments of Botswana and Zambia had collaborated at the newly opened Kazungula Border, where they have created a “One Stop Border Post”, under which both are sharing a land border entered into a bilateral agreement that enable close cooperation between agencies on either side of the border to ensure that regulatory formalities associated with imports, exports or transit are not duplicated to delay customs clearance time.   

It is widely recognized in various international organizations that a “one-size-fits-all” understanding of Single Window is likely to fail. Using information provided in this brief, a Customs administration should be able to paint its “as-is” picture that reflects its unique “current state of the environment” and preparedness across the various policy, technical infrastructural and practical dimensions with a view to map out the Single Window Environment.     

Identify best practices in the region or globally 

Various templates and implementation steps for achieving border interoperability have been published by international governmental organizations. In addition, private sector ICT companies have seized upon the need for these efficiencies by developing and marketing various proprietary ― “systems” and ― “solutions” for government Electronic Single Window (ESW).  

Establishing priorities for the implementation steps for an Electronic Single Window will be driven by Botswana’s legal authority, level of development of agency interoperability, and existing infrastructure, including ICT, equipment, and employee capacity. Accepted best practices indicate that, at a minimum, the basic component priorities of a successful Electronic Single Window are:  

1.   High-level commitment: to begin planning for the Electronic Single Window and agency interoperability. The appropriate high-level officials in the government should be fully supportive of the initiative. Without this commitment, very little will be accomplished.  

2. Legal authority: each agency must have the legal authority to share data and coordinate with other agencies for the Electronic Single Window to be implemented. Techniques exist that can be used on an interim timeline, such as pilot programs or test processes, that often do not require full legal authority. By using this interim approach, experience can be gained that will assist legislators in understanding why a change in legal authority is necessary and desirable.

3. Identification of core agencies: while it may be ideal to include all agencies with border responsibilities in the planning and development of the Electronic Single Window, it is more effective to keep the initial group of agencies limited to those with core responsibilities. Based on the results of a review of Electronic Single Window programs in place and similar agency interoperability, those agencies should include customs, immigration, agriculture, health, commerce/trade, the central bank, as well as the border police.  

4.  Creation of an interagency working group/steering committee:  after obtaining high-level commitment, legal authority, and a list of candidate agencies, the next step is to create the steering committee or working group that will be tasked with developing the strategic plan, including the identification of the value to the stakeholders.  That plan should include: 

  • appropriate operating model;    

  • stakeholders;   
  • gap analysis of operating infrastructure such as availability of broadband services to the Internet;   
  • inventory of existing technologies in each participating government agency;
  • ownership of the process;  
  • infrastructure necessary to support model;   

  • define key objectives for all parties, including outcomes, data usage, and required speed, certainty, and total cost;   
  • define data collection, processing, analyses, retention, and dissemination;   
  • agree on joint business processes and value chains including the optimum degree of simplification and standardization;   
  • define security and integrity requirements;    define facilities and infrastructure required by all participants;    
  • define structure and how to collect master data;  
  • recommend options for funding resources;   
  • recommend training program to ensure capacity to operate;    
  • determine options for growth (scalability); and,    
  • undertake evolutionary prototyping or pilot program at a particular port before building and introducing an all-encompassing system.

5.  Based upon recommendations  from the working group’s strategic plan, a consultation should be conducted with all stakeholders to demonstrate value and benefit of the Electronic Single Window to them and to the country.  

6.   Obtain consensus on required data elements. How and in what form the information is collected is fundamental to the ability of agencies to coordinate with each other:   primary element of an Electronic Single Window strategic plan is the need for an agreed approach to collection of data elements, harmonizing as much as possible on international standards such as the WCO Data Model or UN/CEFACT date elements.  

7.   Obtain consensus on operating protocols between participating government agencies and private stakeholders. Defining and implementing the protocols through which messages are to be exchanged is what allows the data elements to be shared by the stakeholders. The acceptance of an Electronic Single Window will exponentially increase when the system adopts and implements as many of the schemas and protocols commonly used by the involved parties instead of mandating a totally new set of standards. 

My recommendation for Botswana: eat it one bite at a time 

The journey for Botswana implementation of an Electronic Single Window is a long one. For some the task seems impossible at most and formidable at best. The old adage of how to eat an elephant is relevant here: ― “eat it one bite at a time”. Planning is key. 

That first step needs to be the plan that establishes the goals, followed by the process of achieving those goals. There really are no short cuts to this step. The resources necessary to develop and deploy an Electronic Single Window are available for the initial study and planning. They may also be available for procurement of equipment and training of personnel.  

Again, the key is to have a business plan that demonstrates the type of system needed and the long terms implications of its deployment. That plan should include all stakeholders, since many of them will benefit from its implementation and may ultimately being paying for its maintenance.  

Many workshops and seminars will need to be organized to outline the benefits and requirements for adopting an Electronic Single Window, including the prerequisites to a successful system.  

Selecting technology is manageable; obtaining consensus to adopt Electronic Single Window and changing process is much more difficult. The Electronic Single Window implementation is all about business and NOT technology. Electronic single window is not about implementing a solution. It is about implementing changes for the benefit of all parties to increase national competitiveness.

Joseph T. Willie

Joseph T Willie represents Business Botswana at the Botswana Technical Trade Facilitation Committee.
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