By Alphea Saunders Dec 6 2019 / Jamaica Observer
THE long-awaited parliamentary review of the Customs Act (2019) began yesterday with the first meeting of a 13-member joint select committee, but it will be another month before the deliberations truly get under way.
The committee has agreed to give a wide cross section of stakeholders, who will be affected by the broad changes, until January 31 to raise lingering concerns that are not captured in the law.
Opposition member, Anthony Hylton, who made the suggestion that was accepted by Chairman Dr Nigel Clarke emphasised that this was not an opportunity to rehash issues already raised, but to help narrow the focus of the deliberations.
“Singly, this has to be one of the most important pieces of legislation that has come before the Parliament. So, while acknowledging that a lot of consultation has gone into this Bill — even now I hear from stakeholder groupings their less than satisfied view about what is contained in this Bill — critically, it’s those key points that can make the difference in achieving the objectives outlined in the Bill that I think we need to focus on. And the only way we can get to that is by hearing from some of the key stakeholders; this time, asking them to narrow their focus,” Hylton stated.
The 260-clause Bill repeals and replaces the Customs Act, which was enacted in 1941, with a modern law aimed at improving revenue collection and encouraging voluntary compliance with customs laws and procedures. In April 2017 Cabinet gave approval for the issuing of drafting instructions for the Bill, which last saw minor amendments in 2014.
Those changes included provisions for the Automated System for Customs Data — an automated, integrated customs management system which allows customs declarations and all supporting documents to be submitted electronically. Prior to that, there were a series of ammendments between 1960 to 2004.
Dr Clarke said the legislation is expected to benefit the trading community and Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) by improving customs clearance and revenue collection processes, simplifying procedures for business, and providing more efficient service delivery to the public.
“The Customs Act incorporates international best practices as evidenced in the revised Kyoto Convention, the [World Customs Organization’s safe] framework of standards and World Trade Organization trade facilitation agreement, along with other instruments,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the shipping community — one of the JCA’s main stakeholders — has long expressed concern that the Bill may be skewed too much towards revenue-increasing collection.
The shippers fear the amendments will lead to more of the same challenges they have struggled with, as the revised law intensifies the revenue collection processes and fees. They say the legislation leans too much towards “catching” people, along with other onerous provisions.