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Transparency of Customs appeals process questioned

Published:Friday | January 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The Auditor General's Department (AGD) has blasted the appeals process used by the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) to hear complaints from importers, charging that it lacks transparency.

The stinging rebuke came after the AGD's annual audit of the JCA revealed that over the last three years, Customshas returned some$100 million to importers as a result of rulings by its internal review committee.

However, in its latest report to Parliament,the oversight agency pointed out that itsaudit haduncovered a number of troubling deficiencies in the way the committee operated, which raised questions about the refunds.

"We examined four appeals files and found that they did not contain adequate information on the methodology and other documents which the committee used to arrive at its decision," the AGD noted.

"The foregoing constitutes a weakness in the administration of the internal review committee, which lacks transparency and provides no assurance that the review was conducted in an unbiased and fair manner," the AGD's report observed.


It also notedthat "the decision reached by the tax-appeals department in these cases stated, among other things, that the JCA did not conduct proper research to satisfy themselves of the accuracy and truth of documents presented by the importer in keeping with Section 19 of the Customs Act".

Commissioner of Customs Major Richard Reese has declined to comment on the findings, saying while he has already responded to the AGD, he has not yet reported to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

However, the AGD disclosed that among the shortcomings uncovered by the audit was the absence of any terms of reference for the committee and minutes of any of its meetings.

"The JCA did not maintain minutes of the appeals proceedings. Only an action sheet was seen on file with the decisions that were taken," the oversight agency underscored.

"The committee had no set quorum and we were unable to determine the criteria for selection of the members," the AGD continued.

The AGD has recommended that the JCA formalise the operations of the committee, setting out clearly, among other things, its composition, theroles and responsibilities of members, their tenure, and reporting requirements.