Customs and Border Control expressed “unequivocal commitment to implement the recommendations” made by an auditor general report released Thursday that outlined extensive deficiencies in the agency.
While CBC’s follow-up outlines responses to most of the recommendations made, it does come with some caveats.
The response points out that the audit came at a difficult, transitory time for the agency.
Analysis for the report was conducted in 2018 before Customs began the process of merging with the Department of Immigration to create the joint Customs and Border Control. At that time, Customs was part of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, which oversees revenue concessions.
“It would be unfair to the department and the Customs Senior Management Team that was in place at the time of this audit to consider these audit findings in the absence of context. At the time of this audit, the then Customs Senior Management Team had been in place for just over one year,” the CBC response states.
Before the current collector of customs, Charles Clifford, took up his role in August 2015, the response says, the department had operated without a permanent collector for three and a half years. In that time, four different acting collectors had stepped into the role.
Since 2015, Customs says Clifford has prioritised three areas: increasing revenue by closing revenue gaps, improving relationships with law enforcement for national security purposes, and succession planning.
Management of revenue collection is one major area where progress has been lacking, according to Auditor General Sue Winspear. While revenue from Customs consistently surpasses projections, Winspear said it is unknown how much revenue has been forgone due to policy deficiencies.
“It is disappointing that there has been very little progress made to improve the process for revenue concessions,” Winspear said.
“More than three years after making recommendations,” she said, “there is still no revenue concessions policy, nor is there any systematic monitoring of the revenue concessions awarded, and so it is not known how much money has been foregone or whether the things promised in return for the concession awarded have been being delivered.”
CBC indicated that in the 2015-16 fiscal year, Customs surpassed its revenue target by $10.4 million. In 2017, that number was reported as $15 million and in 2018, $22 million.
To improve concessions procedures, CBC indicated that it will continue to work with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to establish a comprehensive policy.
Regarding other recommendations made by the auditor general, CBC outlined an implementation timeline ranging from 2019 to 2022.
The agency accepted the suggestion that a strategic plan be established and indicated it aimed to have one in place by the end of 2019.
Establishment of performance measurements to determine if strategic goals are being met were projected for implementation between 2020 and 2021.
“Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to the Customs Department and work is under way across government to improve our systems for measuring performance and therefore improve planning and business decisions,” CBC stated.
To establish a workforce plan and a human resources database, CBC said it is looking to the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council for guidance. That council is reportedly working to develop an IT-based human resources management system that could be implemented by member countries, including the Cayman Islands.
“This new programme will be reviewed and hopefully adopted by member countries at our annual conference in Havana, Cuba in May this year,” CBC said.
The agency added that it will continue its transition from a traditional gatekeep approach to one of an intelligence-led organisation, stating, “it will continually refine its business processes, intelligence and risk-based strategies using a variety of techniques, technology, training and development in order to provide the best means of identifying and addressing threats at the earliest possible point”.