Believe it or not – and Collector of Customs Samantha Bennett won’t believe it – we empathize, even sympathize, with her plight.
It is not her doing that import duties are a primary contributor of revenue to the Cayman Islands budget, and Ms. Bennett inherited an unpalatable collection of laws, regulations and practices that have ensnared her and her department in contentious issues (from wedding dresses to electronic goods).
The latest flare-up has to do with whether residents must, or should, register their electronic goods such as iPads, computers, smartphones, and an ever-expanding inventory of modern gadgetry, before they leave the island.
Doing so, presumably, will ensure smooth passage through customs upon their re-entry to Cayman because the serial numbers will be on file, thereby providing proof that they were in possession of the items before they left. (But unless part of the registration process requires actual receipts, there is no certainty that duty was ever originally paid – a flaw that could be remedied with an “amnesty provision” for previously purchased goods.)
Premier Alden McLaughlin, we presume, thought he was doing Ms. Bennett a favor when he held forth on this issue at a press conference last week – but he wasn’t.
In effect, Mr. McLaughlin blamed the public outcry over electronic items on the Compass for “the unfortunate perception that has developed since the news article and editorial” appeared, that perception being that it is mandatory to register those items before traveling.
For the record, the Compass never said the registration was mandatory (it isn’t), but certainly would be advisable if customs officers demand proof that these items are making a “round trip.”
Mr. McLaughlin then went on to say that he has never registered his items and doesn’t intend to start now, indicating he was unaware of anyone being hassled at the airport over electronic items.
(By the way, you show us the customs officer who is brave enough to confront the premier, and we’ll show you the bravest (and most likely former) customs officer in the Cayman Islands.)
In Cayman, returning residents are required to declare and pay duty on items they import. Some do, some don’t, and some do sometimes, but all who don’t declare everything, every time, are violating the law.
Actually, the electronics issue is largely a distraction and should not be addressed in isolation.
The larger, and much more intractable, problem regarding personal belongings of traveling residents concerns the other dutiable items in their possession – clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, golf clubs and so forth.
What is the logic of registering electronic items but not these other dutiable items?
Ms. Bennett broached this very issue on a talk radio show last week. Should we not be registering with customs all of the personal effects we might travel with? She seemed to be suggesting that we should, and, for the consistency of argument and enforcement, she’s probably correct. If you buy into the idea of registration, you must buy into the burdensome (and loathsome) consequence of registering everything.
What is definitely not palatable is Mr. McLaughlin’s “solution”: In effect, “Don’t worry; we don’t enforce those laws anyway.” Premiers shouldn’t talk that way, and countries shouldn’t act that way. A “wink-wink” approach to the law invites discretionary abuse or selective enforcement – or both.
Whatever the way forward, the public deserves clarity and uniformity from their leaders. If Premier McLaughlin endorses Ms. Bennett’s expansionary policy of “registering everything,” he should say so. If he disagrees, he should say that as well.
What is no doubt needed here is for Ms. Bennett and other government leaders to come together to hammer out a modern policy that has these characteristics: It must be easy to understand, easy to apply and, importantly, practical to enforce.