Jamaica’s Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker, in the following article submitted to the Gleaner newspaper, lashes importers for the widespread under-invoicing of goods:
Yes, this job is much more stressful than my last one. Money trumps politics every day and twice on Mondays. There are issues of equity and a culture of privilege. I sense that many believe that they are supposed to find a way to beat the duty system and they approach that conclusion from different pathways, depending on their socio-economic backgrounds.
Importers from the inner city, and there are many, believe that once they qualify as legitimate “sufferers”, they should be allowed all breaks as long as they are not robbing or stealing from anyone. Some literally tell us that we should accept their invoices and not flag their shipments; a group came to the office recently and wanted us to “hand over” two of our valuation officers. The threats come in daily and all sorts of precautions have to be taken.
Informal commercial importers are to be commended for their entrepreneurial spirit, but are encouraged to take their rightful places of ownership of their community by paying duties and taxes that are needed to run the country. Those from uptown and the privileged need to understand that the rest of us are not just simple bureaucrats, and also that not all of us can be bought.
We are not here to be your prostitutes who you pay for a service, while at the same time look at us with disdain. The sophistication of your schemes and the complicity of some government regulations that allow you to operate with impunity, place you into the same boat as smugglers and other criminals who weaken our nation every day.
Greed finds a way to rationalise any action that is necessary to further its goals. The schemes are different, depending on the players, but the goals are the same. Some interests use sophisticated schemes, such as setting up offshore companies to do their purchasing and then reinvoice and ship to Jamaica. Some set these companies up even in China and produce prices designed to offset the duty almost entirely. They would have you believe that you can fill and ship a 40-foot container of merchandise off to Jamaica with less than US$7,000 as weak as the US dollar is today. The table shows a list of a few of the prices submitted to us. The laden weight is the weight of the cargo in the container. US$7,000 is about J$490,000 and a 40-foot container holds a lot!
I have never seen so many things sold for one cent! As my grandmother would say, ‘It don’t pencil out’ and, when the staff even selects the entry for scrutiny, they are lambasted and called by the ‘higher-ups’ to explain why they are bothering Mr So and So. Well, let me be clear. If you feel the need to call or cuss, call me, because it is I who have instructed your shipments to be flagged.Equity demands that we all pay our fair share. The additional duties are needed so we can improve the services in Jamaica. The majority of us don’t have many options. Our children have to go to the school that they pass for and go to schools here in Jamaica; there will be no foreign prep schools for most of our children and, therefore, we have to make sure we give whoever is government the best opportunity to provide these services. When they fail, we fail and our children fail. We can play cops and robbers every day at Customs, but that is not productive and it is stressful for all involved.
What we need is more voluntary compliance with the duty structure by those who posture themselves as just, upright citizens. Surely, you have made enough. Many of you have been getting away with so much for so long, it is unlikely that you can ever be poor again, even if you tried. Having no duties would make our lives much easier at Customs, as we would only have to focus on being efficient but, until that is the law, we have to work to keep a level playing field and see that all play by the rules.
So, I am taking this opportunity to appeal to your good senses and patriotism. This is truly the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country. Every dollar not collected is a dollar that has to be borrowed and it is our children who will have to pay back those funds. We are in a time when that might prove to be harder and more expensive than before. Robbing the Government of its revenue and making a few donations here and there do not absolve you of your wrongs. It is not just enough to cheer for our athletes to feel like a patriot; we have to step up and do the right thing and pay our fair share and see to it that others do too. Many of us are raising children who will ultimately pay the price of our folly.
About Mark Lee
Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.