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Bargains on offer at Customs auctions... country losing millions in revenue nonetheless

Published:Tuesday | May 28, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Adrian Frater, News Editor

Western Bureau:

Persons looking to buy appliances, clothing and general merchandise could have a deal waiting for them at the monthly Jamaica Customs Department auctions, where 'overtime goods' (imported items that are not cleared) are being disposed of under Ministry of Finance guidelines.

"If items are not cleared 14 days after arrival, they are considered overtime items," said Claudette Coombs, an official at the Collector of Customs in Montego Bay, St James. "However, it takes four to four and a half months before they are put up for auction because it requires the approval of the Ministry of Finance and the items must first be gazetted."

However, while the overtime goods are considered a deal for bidders at the auction, it is coming at a cost to the country in terms of millions in uncollected revenue.

"I would say we lose approximately $1 million a month as a result of overtime goods," said Coombs. "In some cases, the items are not saleable, so we lose the revenue they would have generated."

less than market value

According to Coombs, the overtime goods that end up on the auction block are usually priced to recover the customs duties and not at their market value. Persons who ship items have the first choice in buying them back.

"If they (the shippers) come on the day of the auction, once they have made all the requisite payments in terms of customs duties, shipping and storage charges, they will be given first preference to recover their items," she said.

According to Coombs, appliances, clothing, food items and general merchandise are among the most popular overtime items. Most overtime goods are items shipped into the country via shipping companies. However, some of the items are items taken into the island by individuals via the airport.

In the case of foodstuff, to make it to the auction block, these items must meet the guidelines of the Bureau of Standards.

"Items such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals are generally found in the 'not saleable' category as for health and safety reasons, they are not considered for auction," said Coombs. "These items are disposed of under strict state approved guidelines."

Coombs said the monthly auctions are quite popular and sometimes competitive, especially when bidders go after items aggressively, driving up the prices.

"I know a gentleman who got his luxury car dirt cheap at one of the auctions," said businessman Patrick Brown, who described the auction as a good thing. "There is nothing to lose in going to these auctions."