Import fines under the spotlight at customs-• Accusations of favouritism for large importers emerge |26 July 2013
Minister Pierre Laporte made these remarks while on a visit to the customs area at New Port yesterday, where he interacted with customs officials and discussed issues surrounding their work.
The minister was accompanied on his visit by the principal secretary for Finance, Steve Fanny, as well as the commissioner of the Seychelles Revenue Commission Jennifer Morel, the assistant commissioner of the Customs Division, Selwyn Knowles and the director of sea port operations, Alberta Morel.
A number of customs staff raised concerns about what they perceived to be special treatment for certain individuals and companies regarding the waiving of import fines.
“There are a lot of cases where we issue 100% fines to certain people for not having the correct documentation, for instance, and these fines continually get waived or reduced to 25%. We feel very discouraged when we see this,” said one of the customs officials.
Ms Morel, who investigates the appeal of fines and makes a final recommendation to the assistant commissioner and commissioner, confirmed that there had been occasions that she had recommended the fines remain at 100%, but said they had been waived completely by Mr Knowles.
The assistant commissioner defended his decisions by stating that he considered mitigating factors, such as whether it was a first-time offence or the fine was the result of an administrative error on the part of the supplier of the goods.
“We always look at the case on its merits,” said Mr Knowles. “If the person is a first-time offender, we might give him a warning.”
However, the minister warned the assistant commissioner in no uncertain terms that decisions on appeals had to be applied consistently in order to avoid situations where a perception was created that some importers were given preferential treatment compared to others.
“We need to look at developing patterns,” said Mr Laporte. “If you see this is not the first time or the second time, but it is happening on multiple occasions that the documentation is being ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ then you need to start fining them accordingly.”
Many of the other issues raised were to do with the implementation of the Asycuda World software system, which is an upgrade to the previous software, Asycuda ++.
Complaints ranged from the extra work created from the need for physical verification of goods to the automatic allocation of bills of entry to customs officials.
“Unfortunately we are in the transition phase now, which is proving to be challenging,” said Mr Laporte. “We have had a lot of complaints from everyone, but once the transition period is over things will run a lot more smoothly.”
It was also discussed that the implementation of the new system, including the need for physical verification of contents had slowed the system down significantly, and some customs officials raised concerns about being given orders at times from the assistant commissioner to release goods without verification.
Mr Knowles said that these orders had to be given in exceptional circumstances based on a risk system that identified certain large-scale frequent importers as “safe” to allow goods to be released without inspection in urgent circumstances.
“This is only the case now that we have a backlog because of the new system,” interjected Mr Laporte. “Once the transition phase is over and everything is running smoothly again, there will be no need to release goods without verification.”
Mr Knowles confirmed that if he gave customs staff an order to release a container without verification, the responsibility for the decision would remain his alone should any problems arise.
Mr Laporte thanked the staff for their honesty and forthrightness and said that in future he would meet with a small group of representatives from the customs workers every three months to assess the progress and efficacy of the system.