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Stiff penalties for customs breaches as ASYCUDA goes fully online

Published:Friday | April 8, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Major Richard Reese, Commissioner of Customs.

Stiff penalties for customs breaches as ASYCUDA goes fully online

Neville Graham

Business Reporter

A breach of Customs rules or failure to submit required documents will incur penalties of $500,000 to $1 million under its new automated system, says Jamaica Customs Agency.

The full roll out of the Automatic System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) on April 1 means all persons doing business with Customs must now submit all documents electronically.

Commissioner Richard Reese says the new system is set up to capture and cross-check trading activity, such that Customs will be able to track those trying to beat the system.

"If we are auditing an entity and request a document over, say, the last three years and an individual fails to produce that document - whether it be bank records or so on - the individual can be fined up to $500,000 for each document that we request or for each occasion that we request the document," Reese said.

For importers, documents must be submitted no later than 24 hours before the shipping vessel arrives in port, so that Customs may verify the cargo.

"Currently, shipping agents, shipping lines and airlines upload their manifests and that information is then used to verify and validate information that is presented by the importer," Reese said.

Failure to produce a manifest now attracts a fine of up to $1 million - a penalty Reese considers sufficiently painful to force compliance.

"The law is so crafted that it makes it onerous on the individual, so it makes it easier to produce the document than to withhold it," he said.

Notices have been posted indicating that all persons have to go through ASYCUDA, which currently captures around 98 per cent of all revenue-generating port activity.

"There are a few regimes still to be finalised such as trans-shipment, the parcels, post, and the duty-free shops," Reese said, while noting that they should all be integrated into the system by June.

It took the Government two years to build out ASYCUDA. The project was backed US$4 million by the Inter-American Development Bank for procurement of the system, set up and training.

"Because of the time constraints and the need to complete our implementation before Panama Canal construction was completed, we opted for a sole-source strategy and we also opted for a system that is used in over 85 countries," said the Customs commissioner. "Customs procedures are generally the same worldwide, with the exception of tax regime".

ASYCUDA replaces a manual, paper-laden system where some forms comprised as many as eight parts. Reese says the Customs will no longer have to push as much paper, for which persons transacting business with the agency were required to pay.

"We have done an estimate of the number of entries that would be made manually both for exports and imports, and that runs in the region of $87 million annually," he said.

Customs assessments will no longer rely on individual officers but on predefined parameters based on the information that the importer submits.

Once the customs officer enters the classification code for the particular item, the quantity and the CIF value, ASYCUDA will compute the duties, taxes, levies, Customs administration fee and the GCT, Reese said.

ASYCUDA underwent pilot testing in December 2014 for six months. Reese said Customs beefed up its staff complement and hired two overseas consultants to push the project through.

Training in the use of the new system covered some 3,800 participants, including Jamaica Customs personnel and customs brokers.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com