Sergio Riveros, GUEST COLUMNIST
Now that I have your attention, let us 'talk' a little bit about some of the specific principles required to make the customs agency in Jamaica as efficient, effective, and accountable as all stakeholders would like it to be.
In discussions with the management and users of Jamaica Customs over the past week, it became clear that they all have a common vision.
Everybody with whom I spoke wanted to work with the international partners, such as the World Bank, to craft and execute a plan of action that will foster the business-friendly environment that is desperately so needed boost Jamaica's thrust to boost economic growth and global competitiveness.
the time is now
We all agreed, as well, that to get that point, Jamaica Customs will need to go through a modernisation process underpinned by international best practices. The time is now.
Jamaica must seize the moment as the lead organisation just entered the "transition" phase of becoming a full executive agency, a process expected to last about two years.
The literature of best practice recognises that modern Customs operations must be concerned with much more than simply the traditional thrust of revenue collection. Other critical functions include advisory services, policy implementation, trade facilitation and border security.
Of course, in the current global dispensation, the expectations of the clients of Customs operations continue to rise. We no longer just request, but we expect that all these functions will be executed in a way that is simpler, faster, and cheaper.
In the case of Jamaica when the modernisation process reaches a mature state, Customs will be in a position to translate this to significant contributions to the economic growth of the country. For example, as policy adviser the modernisation process will enable the Customs to provide up-to-date information on trade, for access and use by policy developers and decision makers.
In its policy-implementation role, the modernisation process will allow the Customs to support the smooth and efficient articulation of trade agreements.
A modernised Customs as trade facilitator will enable the profitable operations of the local trading community.
Finally, as security provider the modernisation process will allow the Customs to coordinate effectively with other government agencies to better secure the country's physical and economic interests.
A modern Customs will support country priorities in an effective manner, such as the heavily touted logistic hub, where Customs must be present yet unobtrusive. It would be counter-intuitive to interfere with trade flows, but rather to support its optimisation.
integrated Customs Information System
In this sense, a modernisation process is, at the same time, a process of building up and consolidating partnerships with main stakeholders. Those partnerships should be sought from the very beginning of the process in order to build up a national consensus about the role of Customs in the economic development of the country.
A critical aspect will be the implementation of an integrated Customs Information System to allow for the more efficient electronic processing of steps that are currently executed manually.
It is a no-brainer that technology today, if used effectively, can transform the entire modus operandi of a cumbersome paper-based environment, converting it into a paperless one.
This will also pave the way for additional trade-facilitation measures, such as a single window for trade - and that is where the world is heading.
In my experience, these are the critical factors for success:
Jamaica Customs does, in fact, recognise this and the leadership has been working on this list to deliver the new reality. In fact, we tabled and discussed all of these aspects during the 'Conversation Series on Customs Modernisation' held in the HQ Customs facilities from September 3-5, where I had the pleasure of being the main speaker.
The conversation series was initiated by Jamaica Customs under the Supporting Economic Management in the Caribbean (SEMCAR) programme, implemented by the World Bank and sponsored by the Government of Canada.
The objective of the conversations was to discuss critical aspects of Customs modernisation and the likely benefits that would accrue to the country. Topics covered were legislative reform, standard operating procedures, risk-management systems, human resources management, and general aspects of Customs modernisation.
Ultimately, the Jamaica Customs modernisation efforts should yield a better business climate, which should boost economic growth by facilitating sustainable job creation.
Sergio Riveros is a customs reform and modernisation expert. He offers technical support to the Government of Jamaica as a World Bank consultant under SEMCAR.