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Proposed amendments to the Customs Act, which will reduce opportunities for importers to under invoice or undervalue imports in order to avoid paying full duties, cleared another hurdle Friday (October 23), when the Senate passed the Bill.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bill in the Senate, said that the legislation, which was passed recently by the House of Representatives, will aid the Customs in fighting against smuggling, under invoicing and undervaluing of goods, and protect the public revenue.
She noted that in an effort to avoid paying the correct customs duties and general consumption taxes, some importers continue to submit invoices, which do not reflect the true value of the goods nor the accurate quantity being imported.
Senator Lightbourne echoed sentiments from the debate in the House of Representatives, that importers collect two suppliers’ invoices for the same goods – one containing the correct quantity and value of the goods, and the other with reduced quantity and/or value. The correct invoice is used for income tax purposes, while the incorrect one is submitted to Customs in order to pay less than the required duties and taxes.
She said that the goods which do not reflect their true costs, enter the marketplace at a distinct advantage over those for which the correct duties and taxes have been paid.
In cases where Customs discover the correct invoice and the court require the maker of the documents to attend court to give evidence, the maker of the document is usually an overseas person or entity which is either unwilling or unable to attend court in Jamaica, she told the Senate.
To overcome the challenges of prosecuting the cases, the new amendments place the burden on the accused importer to disprove the contents of any documents found in his possession or under his control, where the maker of the document is unable or unwilling to appear in court.
Senator Lightbourne accused importers who under invoice and undervalue their goods, of taking needed revenue away from the people of Jamaica. She argued that the collection of the full amount of duties is important in order to meet budget needs.
The Bill was first introduced to the House of Representatives in 2006 by former Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. Omar Davies. However, it ran into problems when some members raised concerns about shifting the evidential burden to the suspected importer.
But, Senator Lightbourne said Friday, that the amendments do not contravene the presumption of innocence, and that the basic standards of fairness are being upheld.
The Bill was passed without any amendment. It will now be referred back to the House of Representatives for final approval at its next sitting, after which it is expected to be signed into law.