Four-week waits to receive vehicle parts or three-week waits to receive shipped goods from local customs agents that have occurred in the past few months are not the norm, according to Customs Collector Charles Clifford, who responded in detail this week to questions from the Cayman Compass concerning a number of public complaints about delays in receiving imported items.

Mr. Clifford said the current average time to receive goods released from Her Majesty’s Customs service is about 24 hours, but he noted a number of factors can contribute to certain individual releases being delayed.

“There are cases … when declarations are suspended or rejected because documents are missing or information is lacking,” Mr. Clifford said. This can include documents shipped without invoices attached, incorrect shipping documents, incorrect description of goods or incorrect tariff codes.

If HM Customs requires an inspection of goods for compliance, this would also result in delays, Mr. Clifford said.

“To avoid such delays, we encourage importers to remain compliant with customs and to provide us with all the relevant documents and information required for processing,” he said.

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Many residents and some businesses choose to not collect goods directly from the customs warehouse, but use a local customs agent to access the goods on their behalf. The customs agent then notifies the customer when their goods are ready.

Mr. Clifford said the working relationship between HM Customs and private sector customs agents has been in place for decades and does not typically result in delays.

“However, most of their imports are consolidated shipments which include many single imports for various importers,” Mr. Clifford said. “In some cases, one consolidated shipment could consist of 50 to 100 individual imports, or more, and therefore would take more time to process.”

Mr. Clifford also points out that Cayman may be something of a victim of its own success when it comes to imports. The overall resident population has grown close to 65,000, according to estimates stated by Premier Alden McLaughlin this week. Also, economic activity around construction projects – particularly high-dollar properties – has been booming. Planning statistics for 2017 showed more than 1,000 construction projects receiving planning approvals with a combined value of $688 million – the highest single-year dollar value for construction projects ever seen in Cayman.

More residents importing goods and more development projects requiring imported goods means more demand on customs services.

“Over the past two years, the customs department has seen an increase in imports,” Mr. Clifford said. “The increase and heightened vigilance [of customs staff] are the reasons why we have exceeded our revenue targets by $10 million [in 2016] and $12 million [in 2017].”

Customs imports remain the highest, single, annual coercive revenue source for the Cayman Islands government, which does not use direct taxation methods to earn its operating cash.

Over the past year, HM Customs has also been introducing an online claims system aimed at speeding up the entire process in light of the additional demands. However, that also led to some delays in receiving imported items that were consolidated into large shipments. This led to complaints from some local businesses around last Christmastime that items needed for construction projects were not being received on time.

Mr. Clifford said those issues have since been resolved and the general idea is to have customers “do everything,” including payments, online.

“They will only need to visit the customs department to collect their goods or to witness an inspection if one is being conducted on their shipment,” the collector said. “That is the ultimate goal.”

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