Dr Friday makes complaint on behalf of Bequia
November 30, 2012
Dr Friday makes complaint on behalf of Bequia

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has made a call for urgent changes to be made at the Customs and Excise Department.{{more}}

Gonsalves, speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of Parliament, made the call in light of recent complaints he said he has received regarding the operation of the Customs and Excise Department.

Gonsalves made the comments while responding to a question posed by Dr Godwin Friday, Parliamentary Representative for the Northern Grenadines.

Friday asked the Prime Minister to respond to an issue, where cargo coming into the country with the intention of being delivered directly to Bequia was being required to be discharged in Kingstown for inspection, which he said resulted in additional shipping costs to businessmen.

The Prime Minister read a response from Grenville John, Comptroller of Customs, who indicated that no such procedure had been adopted by Customs relative to cargo destined for Bequia.

John further indicated in his response that the only record of this occurring took place on October 5, 2012 when a consignment of cargo for a business entity in Bequia was listed on a manifest in the Kingstown office and was landed at Port Kingstown.

“Since the goods were manifested in Kingstown, they had to be processed in Kingstown before the release was given; however, this procedure was not followed. The requisite entry for the goods had not been made and the appropriate duties not paid to Customs, neither by the importer or his agent, nor any security of the duty liability put by the importer or his agent, but efforts were made to transfer the cargo to Bequia,” the response from the Comptroller said.

This, the Comptroller said, was contrary to Section 61 of the Customs Act, which stated that no imported goods are to be delivered or removed until the importer has paid to the proper officer duties chargeable.

“So, to say the cargo intended to be delivered directly into Bequia will be required to be discharged in Kingstown for inspection by the Customs is incorrect and misleading, as outlined above,” John continued in his response, which was read in Parliament by the prime minister.

“The proper procedure was not followed and, based on the Customs records, this was the only consignment within recent times that had this problem. There is no new procedure; maybe there was a misunderstanding by the importer and his agent in relation to the consignment above,” the Comptroller said.

But Gonsalves, commenting on the response provided by the Comptroller, said that the number of complaints from business people could not be tolerated.

“I get them and you tell me it’s one case and that case rose from a misunderstanding?” the prime minister questioned.

“I don’t accept that because it means that I have to disbelieve all the complaints that I get,” Gonsalves continued.

“I am saying in relation to this answer, which has been given to me to read – it is ignoring a lot of real facts which are taking place and obviously not getting to the attention of the Comptroller of Customs because if I get an earful from the business community in Bequia and also here in St Vincent and in relation to Bequia, you tell me that is one case you have on record; well, people who giving the Comptroller information not giving him correct information,” he said.

The role of Customs, according to the prime minister, in addition to collecting taxes, was to facilitate and make business easier.

“We have gone past the colonial days which emphasize control without proper management. We need control yes, but control can’t be all end all.

“Why don’t you simply say when the people come, it is consigned here to St Vincent not consigned to Bequia, but you want it to go to Bequia, well that’s fine we will allow you to take it to Bequia and have the people for Customs down there in Bequia deal with the matter and collect the duties,” Gonsalves said.

Bequia is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the prime minister pointed out, and in the same way goods are allowed to be moved from the port and examined after hours by Customs officials with abundant overtime, the same could have been afforded to the business people in Bequia.

“I am not going to take basket to carry water for anybody, not on the representation of the people of St Vincent.

“We have to make changes at Customs, not personnel, we have to make changes in the way we do things,” he said.

He added that he met with John earlier this week, who expressed some concern about the collection of duties.

“And I agree with that. We also have to be concerned about the ease of doing business and the sensitivity to business people,” the prime minister said.

He said that he knew that some business people would intentionally log complaints in order to avoid paying port tariffs, but not in the case of those that he was getting the complaints from.

“In fact, some who are notorious for evading duty seem to be able to succeed in doing it,” Gonsalves said.

He expressed his dissatisfaction in the manner he said the local business people were treated and, more specifically, the manner in which those from Bequia were treated.

“I know Customs officers are also dissatisfied,” he said.

This prompted him to say that there were departments within the government service where he said the employees were a law unto themselves.

“Some people who collect taxes for the government, they are known to say why I bothering collecting that for? For Ralph them to mis-spend it? They become legislators you know,” he said.

The issue, Gonsalves said, will be brought up during the upcoming Budget debate, as he reiterated the call for a review of the procedures and processes at Customs.

“And for those who say is because I get persons promoted, who shouldn’t get promoted, I don’t help anybody get promoted in Customs,” Gonsalves said.

“I don’t interfere,” he added, saying that he was involved in the process of selecting the Comptroller of Customs.

He said that he spoke on the issue and got involved, because he has in interest as the prime minister and minister of finance.

“I know a lot of officers are doing good work, but we know all are not pulling their weight and we have to make some changes,” Gonsalves said. (DD)