New system costing time and money, say businesses
Frustrated business owners say they are losing time and money waiting in line for hours at customs because of a new system that has added mountains of additional paperwork.
The Cayman Islands Customs Department acknowledged “teething issues” with the new process but said it was doing its best to assist importers. A new online declaration process is currently being tested with a view to being open to the public by October this year.
Several importers told the Cayman Compass they were being forced to dedicate a minimum of half a day to waiting for paperwork to be processed at customs whenever they wanted to bring goods on to the island.
The new coding system expands the number of categories of items that need to be listed on declaration forms with a specific eight-digit numerical code from around 300 to roughly 5,000.
It means that, for example, rather than classing items for import as “fruit and vegetables,” importers have to specifically list the amount of each fruit and vegetable in the shipment, along with the relevant code.
Shanti Christian, of Easyway Express – a courier firm that allows residents to make online orders to U.S. postal addresses which it then imports to Cayman on their behalf – said the new system was a nightmare for her.
She said a process that used to take 20 minutes now took several hours. She said even the customs officers who tried to assist her were unable to answer all her questions.
“I run this business alone. I can’t afford to be waiting for hours at customs just to clear paperwork. I have lost several days, because of waiting in line at customs for hours at a time, just to clear an entry,” she said.
Johann Moxam, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said several members had expressed similar concerns about the new system.
“The biggest issues would appear to be around the amount of time it is taking and the lack of customer support,” he said. “We would encourage the Collector of Customs and the department to continue their educational seminars and focus groups and be open to the suggestions of business owners.
“It is imperative that we have a system that works for all. With anything new, it takes time to sort out all the issues. We would encourage business owners and customs to work in partnership to find a resolution to this matter.”
Samantha Bennett, Collector of Customs, said the new Customs Tariff Law introduced a harmonized commodity description and coding system that was used in more than 250 countries worldwide. She acknowledged that the information required was now far more detailed and that the process of verifying forms and cross-referencing with invoices could be time consuming.
“As a result of this change, the declaration process will take a while for larger importers who have several invoices to process. For those persons with small imports, the process can be just as overwhelming, especially when customs has, as a practice over the years, completed most of the form on their behalf.
“As persons get familiar with the process, the system will improve. However, we are just moving through the teething pains of a new IT system, new law and new process requirements,” Ms. Bennett said.
Ms. Christian, one of several frustrated business owners who contacted the Compass, said her business required her to visit customs every week.
“I go down before it opens and wait on the steps with a book so I get the first ticket. Even then it takes hours,” she said.
She added that the 24-hour drop-off option, which allows importers with larger orders to leave their paperwork and return the next day, sometimes took as long as three days.
She said she often had orders of several hundred different items, which now require a unique code for each, which had to be verified by customs staff.
Ms. Bennett said the process would become much smoother as everyone became familiar with the new system.
She added, “Currently, we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. Even with the addition of six new administrative officers in April 2014, keeping up with the work load is quite challenging as there is no doubt that imports are on the rise but yet our staff numbers are still limited.
“We are hoping that the online process will allow us to process applications expeditiously in the back office so we can then focus on speeding up the service in the front office at the customer service counter.”
The online portal process will go live at the end of this month for larger importers before being rolled out to brokers and couriers and finally the general public before October.
In the interim, Ms. Bennett said several measures had been introduced, including separate lines for importers with smaller orders and “floating staff” to assist customers with paperwork while they waited.
The new law was passed in 2012 but only introduced officially in March this year. One of its aims is to provide government and customs with more accurate data on imports.
Ms. Bennett said, “This new tariff will allow the Cayman Islands to compare quality partner-country data and bring us in line with acceptable international standards. The data will be used for monitoring of controlled goods, rules of origin, transport statistics, price monitoring, quota controls, compilation of national accounts and economic research and analysis.”