House passes legislation to modernise customs procedures Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Legislation to modernise customs practices and procedures to facilitate trade effectively and efficiently was recently passed in the House of Representatives.

The Bill, the Customs Act, was piloted by Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Dr Nigel Clarke.    The modernisation is expected to bring benefits for the trading community and the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) by improving customs clearance and revenue collection processes, simplifying procedures for businesses, and providing more efficient service delivery to the public.    In his remarks, Dr Clarke said the legislation was sent to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, which considered the Bill over a two-year period.

“The Joint Select Committee had the opportunity to hear the views of stakeholders across the society. Those views were incorporated and a report was tabled in this House on the results of the Joint Select Committee deliberations, and that report was passed,” the minister said. The proposed new Customs Act contains just under 300 clauses, across 200 pages, with a further 800 pages of schedules, all in a single document.

Dr Clarke pointed out that the legislation represents a transformation in the way citizens of Jamaica and users of ports and airports engage with Customs.“The first aspect of the transformation is the simplest one, and that is, in one document we have the entire Customs Act along with all of the schedules. If you try to replicate this, you will need maybe 40 or 50 different documents to take account of all the amendments that have been made over time and all the schedules that exist,” he said.

“So the situation today is one that gives an advantage to entities that are more resourced, because they have the opportunity/personnel and the resources to be able to deal with the complexity of 50 separate documents.

“By having everything in one schedule, what we do is we level the playing field because the business that has two people in it or a sole trader can understand the document. All they want is for it to be in one place,” Dr Clarke said.

Member of Parliament for St Catherine Southern, Fitz Jackson, while welcoming the legislation, recommended that a sunset period for review be set for the Bill.

“It is indeed a very extensive document, and the truth of the matter is that it is persons who are involved in the trade that use the document more often than are the average citizens.

“That said, could we agree that some sunset period for review [be] set, because it is when persons are experiencing the Act over time that they may come into elements in it that they need to address,” Jackson said.

In response, Dr Clarke said the concern was a “reasonable one”, as the Bill replaces the original Customs Act of 1941.

“When you make this kind of sweeping change, there can be unintended consequences in implementation that only arise when people have the experience.

“So, it would make good sense to, I would say… two years is probably too short… but say three years after implementation, because it doesn’t get implemented the day we pass it. Three years after implementation, we will definitely review,” the minister stated.

“We might have to do stuff before, depending on the nature of the circumstances. But we cannot shy away from making the change, because what is to be gained is far more than any inconvenience that might arise. But your remarks are well founded, and I accept the substance of the suggestion about having a review in three years,” he added.

The Bill is to be sent to the Senate for approval.