Officials are delaying for about a week the implementation of a new customs department declarations system aimed to facilitate online payments for stamp duty from businesses because of what were described as technical “glitches.”
The timing of the new system’s introduction, during Cayman’s busiest shopping time, ahead of Christmas and the tourism high season, has caused some concern among local businesses.
“For customs, there really is no ideal time of the year to introduce a new IT system,” Collector of Customs Charles Clifford said in response to Cayman Compass questions about the issue. “Many of our customers only use our services during the busy season [referring to high season, between December and April].
“Additionally, for security and functionality reasons, we needed to move forward with this project as quickly as possible, and we made a determination that it could not be delayed until the end of the busy season in 2018,” he said.
Mr. Clifford said the new system, which was initially implemented on Nov. 1, sustained a delay in processing customs declarations from businesses between Nov. 1 and Nov. 8.
Mr. Clifford sent an email to local businesses on Nov. 4 informing them they could not process their declarations through the new online system: “For those of you who have already registered in the Customs Online System [COLS] and received your credential, we ask that you do not attempt to enter your declarations via COLS at this point until we notify you that the system is fully functional.”
On Nov. 8, Mr. Clifford informed business owners that the new online system was “functioning as expected.”
“Those who have not yet registered on the Customs Online System are encouraged to do so as soon as possible so that you can begin to use the COLS portal,” the Nov. 8 follow-up email read. “We may discover some other minor glitches as we progress, but our customs and the computer services department’s teams are standing by to rectify any issues that may arise.”
Before the introduction of the new online system in October, the customs service brought in local businesses owners for training on the new online system.
When asked about the delays in implementing the new online system, Mr. Clifford said they were not unanticipated. He told the Compass that the old declarations system will be kept in place until the end of the year, while customs transitions to the online portal.
The eventual idea is to prevent business owners from having to make multiple trips to a customs agent, then the customs headquarters to be assessed duty and then to the port storage warehouse – often all in the same week – before they can pick up items needed for their company. Many companies have, until recently, completed that process every week.
“We will review the situation at the end of the year and, if our customers need more time to make the transition, then we will make every attempt to facilitate that” Mr. Clifford said, adding that some businesses were already using the Customs Online System while others were still using the old declarations forms.
If customs had waited to introduce the new IT system until May or June, Mr. Clifford said, it was possible some customs users would not have come across it until the next holiday season anyway.
“It follows that for those customers, it wouldn’t matter whether we introduced it during the 2017 busy season or during the 2018 slow season, because either way they would still be clearing goods for the first time on a new system during the busy season of 2018 because many of them would have had no reason to use it during the slow season,” Mr. Clifford said. “We encourage the skeptics to embrace the change because the new system is designed to ultimately deliver effective trade facilitation and exceptional customer service while maintaining effective border control protocols.”