Customs collector stands by officers

Response to May 2 Compass editorial, “To: Samantha Bennett, Collector of Customs, H.M. Customs Department”

Firstly, we would wish to assure you that all concerns about the way customs officers perform their duties are viewed seriously and the matter in question regarding the wedding dress to which your editorial refers to was fully investigated by the department.

We hope it would be helpful if we first explain that one of the fundamental duties of a customs officer is the examining and searching of luggage of passengers seeking to enter the Cayman Islands. This is done to ensure that persons are fully declaring any dutiable items and to ensure that prohibited or restricted items are not entering this jurisdiction illegally. While the department facilitates trade and the movement of passengers effectively, customer service is always a paramount consideration and I assure you that my officers went beyond the call of duty to assist the passengers involved in the incident to which your editorial refers.

We now turn to your reference to customs officers as “harassing visiting grooms transporting wedding dresses to their brides-to-be as a matter of routine,” which in our judgment is an unfair statement. Random searches of luggage are conducted on a daily basis and all passengers are subject to these searches by our customs officers. You will be aware that such diligence and professional ability recently resulted in major arrests for the importation of dangerous drugs to the islands.

According to the Customs Declaration Form completed by the passenger, the dress was not declared to customs officials and during a routine search of the luggage, the dress was discovered with the groom’s suit. The customs officer asked the passenger who the dress was for and it was explained by the passenger that it was for his fiancée who was a resident of the Cayman Islands. I am sure you are aware that imported goods are subject to import duties. The customs officer proceeded to advise the passenger that the item should have been declared and import duty would be applicable and a receipt would be needed to determine the value. The passenger then declared he did not have a receipt as the item had been made by someone especially for the occasion. The officer then advised that the dress could be detained until a value or receipt was determined in which the groom responded by offering a deposit of $500. Please note that at no time did any customs officer suggest a deposit of $500 or demand this as your editorial makes reference to.

Officers on duty assisted the passenger by searching online for a similar dress for a value to assist in the assessment of duty. During this process the passenger informed the officer that his fiancée would cease to be resident in the islands after the wedding and would leave the island with the wedding dress, Given this new information provided, the officer quickly advised the passenger that duty would not be applicable in this case but that a deposit would be necessary. A deposit of $67 was assessed and paid.

The passengers then proceeded to ask questions regarding the Customs Tariff Law, which included the sanctions that could be applied in this matter. These questions were professionally answered by a senior customs officer.

Regretfully, the accompanying passenger (his mother) responded “even to my underwear and socks do I need to declare?” At no time, did any customs officer ever state to the passengers directly, you have to declare all goods including your socks and underwear; it was a question that was posed by the accompanying passenger.

With regard to the groom’s suit, the officer asked the groom about the suit and accepted the detailed response that the suit was a used suit and not a new purchase. Please note that the passengers to whom we spoke were at no time singled out for a search. The process was conducted within the normal routine of our officers randomly checking passengers of incoming flights.

It is most unfortunate that you chose to highlight this matter by making it the subject of both your editorial and cartoon in Friday’s newspaper especially given that it was also a front page story in your newspaper Thursday (May 1). Furthermore the condescending tone of your editorial was most inappropriate as the language used was more akin to some entertainment type tabloid rather than the “The islands’ most-trusted news source” that your publication purports itself to be.

In conclusion, it is unfortunate that the passengers found it necessary to complain to the media and not to this department and it is indeed regrettable that they have formed an unfavorable impression of the customs department. However, customs officers have an irreducible obligation to enforce the Customs Tariff Law fairly and consistently. I hope that you will agree that the actions taken by officers on this occasion were in keeping with the high standards we expect from our brave and courteous officers.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Compass,
    The phrase you were looking for is, We apologize.
    If the events as Ms. Bennett describes them are true, you have done a huge disservice to Cayman and to journalistic integrity.
    I live in Grand Cayman and often have family visit. If one of my visitors brought to me a custom made, very expensive suit I would expect they should declare it and pay import duty. If they did not declare it and were searched and customs officers inquired about it, I would expect a situation as happened with the bride’s dress to occur. The fact is not declaring an imported item is illegal and law enforcement must do their job. In this case it seems the situation was properly resolved once the officer determined the item was not for import, but was to be brought in on a temporary basis. The fact that a hysterical bride and bride’s mother were involved and crying just serves to sensationalize the story and has no bearing on whether the correct events took place.
    Your assertion that this type of activity harms Cayman’s wedding tourism product is false. What hurts the tourism product is a supposedly reputable news source incorrectly reporting facts related to a story. How could a former resident returning to island to marry a current resident be compared to the wedding tourism product anyway?

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  2. I find it very hard to believe this was a random inspection.
    Before first coming to work in the Cayman Islands, I made two trips in as a visitor bringing with me a total of four dive bags full of household basics. Nothing was declared and nothing got checked. On both trips I also saw both other visitors and locals with trolley loads of luggage just being waved through by customs.
    This isn’t anything like as simple as Samantha Bennett is trying to suggest.

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