Friday, 20 April 2012 02:31
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - Operating in “marriage” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC), through the confines of an almost-decade-old management act, the Customs and Excise Division is reporting notable strides in its operational and service mandate.
The IMF and CARTAC continue to offer advise to the Division in its restructuring efforts, and some of its recommendations have already been taken on board.
Addressing the media in what is considered to be its first initiated press conference in several years, a newly compiled Customs public relations team explained that through the vision of new Comptroller Raju Boddu, several new initiatives will soon come into effect to complement those already realised in the past three months. Importers like Philip Shoul have expressed satisfaction so far with the new changes.
Senior Officer Milon Aska said, “The aim of Customs is to become a professional organisation… We are looking to change the ‘immediate effect’ nature that the department has become known for and provide notices and updates of our plans. And removing the bureaucracy is key in the process.
His team announced two new measures that take “immediate effect”.
Among the things to come is the facilitation of small and casual importers through a simplified procedure designed to eliminate the need for brokers and the preparation of warrants.
There will also be the introduction of a separate queue system for barrels and containers at the deep-water harbour. This system should save both casual and commercial importers hours.
“We are looking at facilitating trade in a timely manner,” Senior Customs Officer Stenette Knowles said.
He added however that for the latter system to take effect, the department would first need to expand its complement of staff, which has restricted it from making progress. Customs Comptroller Boddu recently expressed this need in an interview with Caribarena.com.
Another important procedure that will soon be streamlined is the allowance for importers to use electronic payments and signatures like credit and debit cards at the ports of entry. This approach is expected to yield considerable benefits from tourists and other business owners.
In the first quarter of 2012, since the appointment of the new comptroller, the Customs and Excise Division has delegated new powers to senior officers. There has also been a simplification of the procedure to deal with duty free warrants, as well as an abridged procedure for vehicle imports that eliminates the need for the Tax Compliance Unit.
A suggestion and complaints box has also been put in place at the Customs head office, to be managed and accessed only by the comptroller. According to Knowles, “There are a lot of issues in Customs and we think the best way to reduce and eliminate them is to hear from the public.”
Further, it was announced on Thursday that between April 23 and May 4, the Customs & Excise Division would facilitate the clearance of goods in transit for vessels or yachts arriving via courier service at the Nelson Dockyard Office. This will eliminate the need for yachties to travel to the VC Bird Cargo to collect packages. Customs personnel will transfer the goods between the two locations during this period.
Moreover, not all of the new measures may be considered beneficial to importers, as the Division declared that from next Monday, April 23, importers would have to present a copy (duplicated or otherwise) of their Tax Compliance Certificate (TCC) when attempting to clear any imported goods.
The TCC is issued quarterly by the Inland Revenue Department, and according to Customs, as of Monday, no entries would be processed without a valid certificate.
Additionally, with immediate effect, a letter of authorization would be required from departments and divisions of government, as well as statutory corporations, autonomous bodies and societies under the government, before any duty free imports can be cleared under their names by individuals.
This letter, which is templated, and available at the Customs office, must be signed by the heads of the organisation in favour of the individual or entity clearing the necessary goods.
“Under no circumstances the duty free warrants will be processed without such an authorisation,” the Division said.
Another measure that takes immediate effect is the restriction of the use of the Tax Identification Number (TIN) 99999, which is reserved for casual importers. Under the new guidelines, only four categories of importers would be allowed to use this TIN.
The move comes in response to reported widespread abuse by commercial importers that has affected the statistical gathering of the country’s trade information.
Any importer falling outside of the outlined categories would have to obtain an independent TIN before proceeding.
The categories allowed include:
(a) Small and casual importers where the CIF value is equal to or less than $5,000.
(b) Importation of personal effects, vehicles etc by a returning national
(c) Casual expatriate importers
(d) Accredited diplomatic missions
Furthermore, it was announced that as of May 1, a customs officer would be stationed at the security check point/exit gate at the Deep Water Harbour to verify cargo leaving the country. Port security personnel are currently handling this verification independently. Customs officers will be there to “vet” the process and “facilitate a smooth exit” of goods.
“It is something that is already in place," the customs PR team said. "The process will not take any longer than normal."