Reform coming to Customs and Excise Department
January 22, 2013

Reform coming to Customs and Excise Department

An assessment of the Customs and Excise Department last year found “weaknesses that are affecting the Customs performance in comparison to the best international practices,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament on January 14.{{more}}

He said in his Budget Address that many in the business community believe the Customs “remains largely unapproachable” and he spoke of steps to address the situation.

The assessment of the Customs was conducted by a team of officials from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the Canadian International Development Agency and the World Bank project SEMCAR — SmartStream Enterprise Agreement Negotiation.

The team conducted the assessment using the Custom Assessment Trade Toolkit (CATT), an integrated tool to evaluate the relative strength and weakness of any Custom administration and compare them to international best practices.

Among the strengths identified were as good information and communication technology — ICT equipment, new infrastructure under construction, some procedures that facilitate trade operations, a highly committed management team, revenue collection and a sound roll-out of ASYCUDA ++ as the core information system, Gonsalves said.

ASYCUDA — the Automated System for Customs Data — is a computerized system designed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to administer a country’s customs.

Gonsalves said the weaknesses at Customs include, insufficiency of approved procedure manual to set out standard operational rules and lack of risk management system based on risk profiling.

He also listed excessive physical inspections with poor outturns, absence of formal information sharing with Inland Revenue, Immigration, health and agriculture services, weak cargo control mechanism, and lack of effective internal as well as external feedback mechanism.

Therefore, the Government has formulated measures to be implemented at the Customs immediately.

These measures include improvement to the working environment, the prime minister said.

He explained that the current accommodation for Customs “is poor and negatively affects the image of the organization and staff productivity”.

Construction of the new Customs building will be completed early this year, Gonsalves said.

“This will send an important message to staff about the importance which my government attaches to providing a modern, safe working environment. It will also improve the public’s perception of the Customs and Excise Department.”

The new measures will also include improving relations with the trading community.

The upgrading to ASYCUDA++ — from ASYCUDA — was a major turning point in reforming the nature of the relationship between traders and Customs and Excise Department, Gonsalves said.

He said while the overall state of the relationship is improving, there is room for further progress.

“It is the view of many in the business sector that Customs remains largely unapproachable. Accordingly, the department has been mandated to strengthen client service in a manner that is consistent with international best practices. This includes introduction of a ‘gold card’ programme to grant privileges to traders with strong compliance records,” he told lawmakers.

Regular consultation with the trading community would also be established to focus on strategic and operational issues, particularly technical issues related to processes and the functioning of ASYCUDA.

He further said reform effects at the Customs “will require continued encouragement and refinement to achieve the cultural and operational charges which are necessary.

“This will require the engagement of advisors and trainers to provide management and staff with an understanding of international best practices and practical know-how to implement and build capacity to sustain the changes being introduced.”

This technical assistance, Gonsalves said, will focus on risk management theory and practice, performance indicators and the use of performance management information, post clearance audit programme development and application, public information and client service improvement, enhancement of intelligence and enforcement, Code of Conduct, and Customs Law. (