The Customs Department is planning a complete overhaul of its information technology system, which will be replaced by technology with the capability of interfacing with the overseers of border trade in overseas markets.
It will create a database that allows for real-time updates on new tax regulations to minimise errors and delays in the computation of port taxes.
Commissioner of Customs Major Richard Reese said Tuesday that Jamaica plans to acquire the latest version of software designed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, called Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA).
"We don't want to go the route of hiring somebody to design a new system. We want to acquire a system that we can adjust to, since Customs everywhere should operate using the same standards," Reese said.
ASYCUDA is used in more than 85 countries worldwide.
Jamaica's IT overhaul, to cost US$2 million, is backed by the Inter-American Development Bank. The funds will be disbursed over three years.
Reese said the need to upgrade Custom's IT infrastructure became even more evident in April when his department experienced challenges associated with the implementation of new tax measures, causing inconvenience to importers, customs brokers and other persons paying duties at the ports.
Jamaica implemented the majority of a new J$16b tax package at the start of the fiscal year.
The confusion led to delays in clearing imports, and was a hindrance to business, he told a forum hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Several glitches still exist in the system, said Reese, despite upgrades by the Fiscal Services Limited, which developed the system currently being used by the Customs Department.
If plans to purchase ASYCUDA World are realised, Reese said the new system could be piloted in about nine months and then rolled out fully in about three years, "just in time for the post-Panama expansion".
The Panama Canal expansion to accommodate larger cargo ships by 2015 is expected to create spin-off economic activity for ports in the region.
ASYCUDA is an integrated system with capabilities beyond what the current system at Customs allows, said Reese, without going into details.
"This new system will provide all of the functionality that is necessary. It will require some legislative changes because there are provisions in the law that says what would need to be changed," he said.
This new system would not require much manual changes at each update. It will be maintained by the provider, said Reese, and managed by Fiscal Services, which is a state-owned IT firm.