By Sue-Ann Wayow
GOODS could not have been cleared at the ports since the year began.
This has caused undue stress and added expenses which is difficult to afford at this time for businesses owners anxiously waiting to collect, according to American Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM T&T).
A release by AMCHAM T&T on Wednesday, stated while the Customs and Excise Division must be applauded for finally beginning the process of full implementation of the electronic clearance application, the Automated System for Customs Data – ASYCUDA 4.2.2., the transition process was faulty.
AMCHAM T&T stated, “Regrettably, the new system has been down more than it has been functional since going live on Monday. We understand that a major software upgrade sometimes results in ‘teething problems.’ However, these new stresses compound a situation in which clearance times and costs in T&T continue to escalate.”
The chamber stated that the business community has been in frequent communication with Customs and the Ministry of Finance including meetings with Finance Minister Colm Imbert which resulted in small, meaningful gains.
“However, our small gains will be eroded if we do not seek to quickly rectify the ongoing problems at the ports. We are once again experiencing not only delays, but also several hours of overtime to clear seemingly simple shipments. We continue to be alarmed and concerned that multiple companies are charged overtime for the same time period. It is obscene that in the absence of a proper, centralised, risk-based management system this creates the conditions for which the need for overtime is determined by the officers who will benefit from this overtime,” AMCHAM T&T stated.
AMCHAM T&T continued, “These delays and the addition of bureaucracy not only add to the overall cost of operations to the Express Courier and Freight Forwarder Industries, but also result in additional costs to small and medium enterprises, in particular, at a time when they can ill-afford increased costs. Customs has justified these delays with increases in tax revenue collection, however, we propose that an increase in tax revenue should not be at the detriment of the industry.”
The chamber stated that the more shipments be allowed to clear, the more revenue in duties and Value Added Tax (VAT) can be acquired by the Government and businesses will be able to operate more efficiently. An efficient Customs Division will benefit the entire economy but increased taxation of a smaller number of businesses will not.
AMCHAM T&T is asking for the production of Standard Operating Procedures to be made publicly available and adhered to at all ports, a centralised, integrated and robust risk management system to protect the borders at the official ports of entry and the continuation of meaningful, open dialogue before new measures are implemented.
Until those can be achieved, the chamber is calling for a reduction in backlogs and the assurance that trade can take place in an efficient manner.