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The Internet not a valuation tool used by Customs – Comptroller

The Internet not  a valuation tool used by Customs – Comptroller

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Comptroller of the Customs and Excise Department Grenville John has stressed that the Internet is not a valuation tool used by the Customs, but is in fact a reference apparatus.

John made the comment in response to questions asked by local business people during {{more}}a consultation, which was organized by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce (SVGCIC) and the Customs and Excise Department on Tuesday January 27.

The meeting, which took place at the conference room of the Ministry of Telecommunications was held in an effort to address concerns, issues and complaints expressed by the business community pertaining to the Customs and Excise Department.

The meeting saw persons asking questions relating to valuation of goods and storage costs, among other pressing issues.

Digicel’s distribution manager Gershom Dick said that his company often has problems with the valuation of Smartphones. He said that the problem arises when handset values online are seen and people take issue with their local pricing.

In response, John said that as it relates to Customs, “the Internet is not a valuation tool of Customs, but rather it is used for reference. He added that what persons must do when an import is queried by the Customs is show what the purchase price was and what influenced the price and provide documentation and by doing this, all problems are solved.

Silky DaSilva of Star Garage, who also operates Haddon Hotel Ltd, said that sometimes, even when documents and forms are presented, the Customs query the invoice. He said that when this happens, the goods stay in Customs longer than expected and that attracts storage costs that are very expensive. DaSilva asked also if it is possible to have this storage cost waived while waiting for disputes to be settled.

John said that the procedure is that persons are only allowed to file official complaints after they have paid and cleared their goods and that is the only way to avoid storage charges.

It was noted that if the individual is unable to pay the Customs duty because a price not expected was charged by Customs, that is not the fault of the Customs.

“The Port Act provides for charges to be waived because the Customs detained the goods. But if the fault is not Customs’ then the importer will have to pay,” said John, who reiterated that there must be evidence that the documentation is not valid for an officer to refuse an invoice.

“The importer has to prove the value, if not Customs can value accordingly,” said John, who noted that the Customs is guided by laws that are used worldwide.

Jason Moussa of M Moussa and Sons asked about the appeal process and the time frame. It was noted that an appeal should not take longer than one to two weeks, unless extra documentation is needed.

John also stressed that valuation reviews, as stated by the law, say that you have to pay what was charged before the Comptroller looks at the appeal, while any appeal must be made within three months of valuation.

Also addressing the meeting was Martin LaBorde of Harmony Investments Ltd, who, while commending the the Chamber for holding the meeting, said that in his opinion, the valuation of invoices takes too long, “up to five days to get it back.”

“The work ethic and attitude of Customs’ workers is a problem. The management is fair in its dealings, but the general officers are not doing things properly,” he stated.

He also said that there was a lack of awareness of the information that impacts on value and goods, for example, currency values rising and falling, while Customs must be more sensitive to such information and use the new technology they possess to the benefit of the business community.

“We respect Customs; we understand what they have to do. But there are things which are impacting on the business community,” said LaBorde.

In response, John agreed that the time factor was an issue and that the service delivery needs to be improved. He advised LaBorde to seek the intervention of a more senior person if he faces problems with junior officers.

John added also that Customs is a government department, and that Customs does not recruit its officers nor promote them.

“All Customs can do is to educate them and guide them on Customs’ practices. Customs has published processing times and businesses can approach them if the times are not being adhered to. If you know the system, you should approach them as soon as you realize there is a problem,” said John.

John said that he was happy that the Chamber was willing to work with the Customs to help clear up a number of issues. He noted that valuation must be worked on, as it is important for our economy, while he stressed that regular quarterly meetings must be reinstated as, “a lot of good can come from this…Customs has an important role to play in the economy of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The meeting was chaired by Errol Allen, while it also heard from SVGCIC member Andrew Woodroffe; executive director of SVGCIC Anthony Regisford; coordinator of IT, Collection of Revenue and Refunds at Customs and Excise Clairmonte Lynch; deputy comptrollers of Customs and Excise Samuel Thomas and Irwina Phills.

Regisford said that the next meeting of this nature will be held in April, but between now and then, the Chamber will work with the Customs to monitor the issues.

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