Car dealers demand compensation from Customs for delays
Director of Customs Michelle Bryan says the Jamaica Customs Agency, JCA, is ironing out glitches in its ASYCUDA system and that car dealers and other importers who are complaining of delays in processing times would soon see improvements.
The agency aims to cut weeks of wait time down to a day, Bryan indicated.
She was responding to a broadside from Lynvalle Hamilton, president of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers Association (JUCDA), who said dealers now face weeks of delays at the ports under ASYCUDA, whereas clearance was done in a matter of hours prior to the implementation of that system.
"Gone are the days when an importer could lodge an entry and have his/her vehicles off the wharf within three hours. It now takes days and sometimes weeks due to deficiencies associated with ASYCUDA," Hamilton said while addressing JUCDA's annual meeting last week.
He demanded that dealers be compensated.
Hamilton later told the Financial Gleaner that the delays were causing "losses in the millions" because of storage fees and other costs imposed on used car dealers.
Bryan said Jamaica Customs Agency was "doing enhancements" to the system and working towards a "24-hour timeline" for clearance.
ASYCUDA was fully implemented by the Jamaican government in 2016 mostly to cauterise the leakage of revenue at the ports, where some goods were estimated to be escaping duty through under-invoicing and other illicit means.
"We are not here to collect more than what we believe to be the price or the price payable," Bryan said, while encouraging dealers to the truthful in their declarations. "People come to us telling us stories; when we check it is false," she said.
Hamilton acknowledged the apologies from the JCA over the delays, but said his members were more interested in covering their losses.
"What would be more welcomed by our members is compensation for the additional storage they are forced to pay due to the deficiencies associated with the said system. Our members are still trying to figure out why substitute a faster clearance system for a much slower one," he said.
'ABUSE' OF POLICY
Hamilton also complained about the practice by the JCA of requesting duty payment prior to the valuation assessment of vehicles, charging that JUCDA members were being asked to pony up revenue under a process that does not comply with the law. Dealers, he said, were effectively the victims of "abuse" of policy.
"The JCA was reminded ... that their policies cannot alter the Customs Act and the Consumer Protection Act - laws to which they are bound," Hamilton said, referring to a meeting held with the agency last year.
It's unclear, however, whether JUCDA plans to mount a legal challenge of the agency's policy or otherwise contest it. Hamilton suggested that, either way, car dealers were in a lose-lose situation.
"The JCA will tell us that there is an appeal process, so we can appeal, but those who know that process well, would know, that it's very unfair and abusive. For example, if what we declare is rejected and we are required to pay an additional amount; if we appeal and do not pay the additional amount we are bound to pay significant amounts in storage because we are barred from clearing the vehicle. And if we pay the additional amount and appeal, and win the appeal, it takes forever to get back our money," said the car dealer.
"Even in instances where irrefutable evidence is presented, values are still rejected these days. We intend to have further discussions with Customs on this matter with a view to have some adjustment made in favour of our members," he added.