Since we began working on TŪNIQ in late 2018, we have faced repetitive and extremely unnecessary bureaucratic challenges from the bloated and demanding Tunisian ministries. This is a problem which is not unique to Tunisia, but which is not discussed often in the Muslim world or Global South, despite its crucial role in proliferating frustration, misery, and dehumanization in our communities. This post will be a running and regularly updated list of the challenges, big and small, that stem from this inefficient system, in the hopes that we can help contribute to changing things for the benefit of people and small businesses here and everywhere.
Founding TŪNIQ challenges
-update from 2019 summary letter
For every single package we ship, even as small as one single chechia, these are the forms we have to manually prepare, including trips to several different offices and payment of several fees (excluding shipping costs):
Papers we need for every TŪNIQ shipment no matter how small
1. Traditional Crafts Ministry approval of merchandise form which involves meeting the control officer and showing him the merchandise in the boxes. This has to be done just before shipping and cannot be done in advance on all of our inventory at once. We fill out one form by hand for each and every package and he signs and stamps.
-We give the original form for each and every package to the Customs officer at the shipping location.
-And we make two copies of the original before that to return it to the Ministry of Traditional Crafts
2. We have to fill out the Tunisian government's customs declaration form for each package, sign and stamp it, and pay a 10 dinar fee per package to the Customs officers.
3. Different Customs declaration form which is affixed to the outside of the box. Signed and Stamped.
4. Shopify order confirmation downloaded from website
Signed and stamped for the Customs office guy
5. Branded manually-printed invoice with retail price in USD
(The automatically generated shopify invoice was not accepted by the Customs officer as a legitimate "invoice" despite containing exactly the same information as the invoice we manually prepare)
-2 signed and stamped copies to the Ministry of Traditional Crafts
-one signed and stamped copy to the post office
-one signed and stamped copy to Customs
*the papers required for just 10 orders.
- Once a month proof of money entering our account in Tunis for the Customs officials
- Copies of all invoices and all post office receipts and customs declarations as proof of merchandise leaving Tunis to our bank in order for them to accept our money transfer and deposit it into our account
Tax Exemption forms
November 2020: As an export business in Tunisia, we are exempt from sales tax when purchasing inventory and other export-related goods. To exercise this benefit, we require pre-stamped forms from the Financial services offices. When we applied for this notebook of forms, we were kept waiting for weeks. Finally, the officer demanded a visit from the CEO. She visited the office and was belittle and questioned about her education and asked how someone so young could be a CEO of a company. The officer finally agreed that all required forms were submitted and the notebook should be ready in a few days. After two weeks, the officer claimed that the company's location contract which was registered at the municipality building must also be registered at the financial services office, a form which was not even required to secure the tax exemption forms and which was accepted as proof of address by the ministry of commerce when the company was registered. Regardless, despite the extra fees, we did this. Again two weeks later, we were finally told the notebook was ready only to find when we went to pick it up that only two out of 100 forms had been pre-stamped for us. "We are still testing you out." They claimed. Something they have no right to do. While 15 invoices await these exemption forms at this moment, we only have two. And will have to reapply and pay the fees again as well as waste our time in order to get any more crumbs from this office.
Bank and Money Transfer Issues
Because of lack of access to international payment processors who deposit in banks in Tunisia, our revenue is sent in large batches to us every three months.
Upon receipt here in Tunis, however, we face a myriad of issues trying to access the funds because of bloated financial security services who check all large transfers for long periods of time before releasing them.
As of November 2020, we have been waiting for five months (since mid June) for a payment transfer that was sent to us in June to be released by our bank. They have asked for an invoice, which we gave them three months ago. Twice weekly visits to our local and central bank branch yielded no results for months. Until finally one call gave us the news that the bank authorities had requested a document showing the inventory transfer. We did not have the exact document they requested, because it was one granted to companies that ship by large shipping containers with mass amounts of product. Whereas we ship to each individual customer through the post office's export system. Once this was accepted, they finally agreed to receive the post office receipts as proof that merchandise left Tunisia in order to finally release our money into our account (we have until this point been unable to grow or continue to pay workers, despite a successful business model). Organizing and copying hundreds of receipts took an entire day of work. We delivered them to the bank and await their response.
Disrespect and Rudeness
-Financial Services Office
General Approach to Paperwork & Bureacracy
-Notarized copies are demanded by every office.
-Copies can only be notarized in municipality buildings with long lines.
-Fees can only be paid in separate financial services buildings by buying stamps and taking them to the relevant office.
-Full company dossier of documents must be resubmitted to every single office for all requests. At least 15 different documents including the rental contract for proof of address which has to be registered at the municipality building, our bank account information, and the customs registration number, have to be submitted for each new application big and small. Opening a new bank account, applying for a special subsidy, applying for a monthly paperwork service, using the post office MPGS system, etc. Each separate office even within the same ministry wants its own notarized copies, which requires waiting in line and paying fees for each one.
-Lack of clarity around laws. Each officer says different things are required. There is no way to check what is actually true.