Senate Approves Amendments to Customs Act


The Senate yesterday (March 18) agreed to amendments to the Customs Act to increase the fines and penalties payable under the law to bring them to more realistic levels in keeping with the value of money and to empower the Finance and Planning Minister, subject to affirmative resolution of the House of Representatives, to amend or vary any penalty or fine under the Act.
The fines and penalties relate to: procedure on the arrival of a vessel; reporting on and control over cargo and persons on board an arriving vessel; management of private warehouses; management of in-bond concessions; procedure on the part of a vessel; procedure on exportation of goods; procedure on carriage coastwise; and procedure in respect of cargo smuggling and dealing with repeated breaches of the Act.
Leader of Government Business in the Senate and Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman, who piloted the Bill, explained that having been instituted many years ago, the existing fines and penalties were no longer a deterrent to those who sought to evade duties.
Opposition Senator Bruce Golding urged the Government to examine the operations at the various ports in the new parliamentary year and to call in the relevant agencies to find out what the difficulties were with collecting revenue, so that these agencies could highlight loopholes and perhaps assist with legislation.
He pointed out that the threat of punishment was not effective unless the perpetrators felt that such penalties were certain. “The problem of enforcement of the Customs Act and the various provisions of the Act involve much more than just considerations of revenue,” he stated. He added that breaches of the Act compromised many areas of Government’s macroeconomic policy as import outturn could be far different from what the policy measures were intended to produce.
Meanwhile, State Minister in the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Senator Deika Morrison, reminded the House that the new fines and penalties were a part of an overall process of reform that had been ongoing with staff changes, computerization, and standardization of practices.
Senator Whiteman assured that in spite of the frustrations, “quite a lot of the corruption has in fact been tracked down and dealt with. Clearly, more needs to be done, but we are aware that persons have been identified and have paid a price”.
He mentioned that new surveillance equipment had been installed at the island’s major ports. He added that in its own way, the corruption prevention legislation had provided a framework to combat corruption in many sectors of the society, including the import and export sector.

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