A ship enters Durban harbour, managed by Transnet. Picture: Marianne Schwankhart
A ship enters Durban harbour, managed by Transnet. Picture: Marianne Schwankhart

The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) has improved its turnaround times for processing letters of authority, but still has a significant backlog to deal with, CEO Edward Mamadise said on Wednesday.

Letters of authority are required by importers before their goods can be released by customs. NRCS approval ensures products and imported goods meet the required specifications.

The backlog and delay in issuing these letters of authority have been a cause of major frustration by commerce and industry, particularly as they have to bear the cost of storage until the imported goods are removed from customs warehouses.

Madamise noted in a presentation to Parliament’s trade and industry portfolio committee that in 2016-17 only 37% of applications were processed within 120 days, which is the set turnaround time. In 2017-18, this had doubled with the NRCS processing 74% of applications within 120 days.

"By June 5, there were no applications [of longer than] 120 days," Madamise said.

However, a total of 5,236 applications were carried over from the 2017-18 financial year when there were a total of 16,034 applications to deal with. Of these, 2,907 were carried over from the previous year.

The regulator has adopted a risk-based approach to dealing with applications for letters of authority and will be separating goods into low, medium and high risk, being processed accordingly.

"The impact of the risk-based approach on approvals is that in the case of low-risk applications we will be able to process those applications more quickly. It also increases the output of our inspectors in terms of the targets they have to reach," Madamise said.

The normal target per inspector is six applications a day, but with the implementation of the risk-based approach, this target has been increased to about 12 applications a day.

A further step in the implementation of the policy is the identification of applications that have a certificate from a conformity assessment scheme for electro-technical equipment and components. Applications accompanied by such a certificate will be processed more quickly as the NCRS will know the products have been tested according to its standards. They will be treated as low risk. At the end of May, 600 applications had these certificates.

Other bottlenecks in the approval process had also been addressed, Madamise said.

The NRCS has embarked on an IT modernisation project with a view to automating its processes. This was not moving at the pace anticipated, Madamise said, due to capacity challenges in the department. Headhunting of a chief information officer was underway and an outside service provider would also be brought in — hopefully by the end of the month.

Madamise was appointed CEO from March 1. The board of the NRCS has also been replaced as the Department of Trade and Industry attempts to strengthen its management. The department’s director-general Lionel October said the NRCS would be prioritising the electro-technical area, as well as processed food, which is a new responsibility. Additional inspectors would be appointed, with 19 already having been approved for food products.