JIS News

The House of Representatives is expected to resume debate on a Bill amending the Customs Act, when it sits on Tues. Sept. 22 at Gordon House, Duke Street, Kingston.
The Bill seeks to strengthen the evidence gathering capacity of the Jamaica Customs Department.
Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Hon. Audley Shaw, who opened the debate last week Wednesday (September 16), noted that the legislation would aid the Department in its fight against smuggling, under-invoicing and under-valuation of goods, in order to protect revenue.
He argued that the Customs Department has serious problems, with importers submitting invoices which do not reflect the correct quantity, or price paid for the goods, in order to avoid paying the correct customs duty and both General Consumption Tax (GCT) and Special Consumption Tax (SCT), where they apply.
“This deprives the country of needed revenue and there is also the other aspect to this, in that the importer who is involved in under-invoicing is at an advantage to compete with the importer who pays the correct import duties,” he said.
He stressed the importance of collecting the correct revenue at the ports of entry, as there is great need for resources to be made available to fix roads, equip hospitals, spend on education and provide more social programmes.
“Accordingly, when the importer is involved in under-invoicing and under-valuing his goods, he is in fact denying Jamaican citizens of critical social benefits,” Mr. Shaw said.
The Finance and the Public Service Minister also contended that experience has shown that, in many cases, importers receive two suppliers’ invoices for the same goods – one which contains the correct quantity and value of goods, and the other either with reduced quantity and/or value.
“The correct suppliers invoice is used for income tax purposes, while the incorrect one is submitted to customs to evade customs duties,” he noted.
The Minister said that that the difficulty is further compounded by the fact that, even in cases where Customs discover the correct suppliers’ invoice, the courts require the maker of the document to attend court to give evidence.
“This poses a problem, as it is not usually possible to have the maker of the document attend court in Jamaica, either because he is unable to attend, or is unwilling to attend. This is understandable, as the importer is the client of the maker of the invoice. Further, due to the delays in our court system, the maker of the invoice may be required to attend court on several occasions,” he explained.
Mr. Shaw noted that the Bill also seeks to amend the Customs Act to shift the evidential burden to the importer, to disprove the contents of any document, electronic recording or data which is found in his possession or under his control, and where the maker of the document, electronic recording or data is unable or unwilling to appear before the court, to prove the contents thereof.
Opposition Spokesman on Finance, Dr. Omar Davies, supported the Bill, stating that it was very important and should not be treated frivolously.
“I know personally, the frustration which has sort of denuded the moral of persons seeking to protect the revenue, particularly in Customs. We know importers are cheating, we know importers are under-invoicing, we have situations where persons are selling products in Jamaica cheaper than the listed manufacturer prices in the United Kingdom but, because we are unable to satisfy the requirements, these persons simply pay a fine and walk free,” Dr. Davies argued.
Member of Parliament for Central Kingston, Ronald Thwaites, however, warned, that Parliament needed to be very concerned about laws that reverse the burden of proof.
“I can understand the provisions as to the admissibility of documents where the maker declines to come and prove them himself, but where assertions are going to put a burden upon a defendant, it seems to me the wording of this (Bill) needs to be extremely carefully calibrated,” he said.
He said more time was needed to ascertain that the objectives would be met, and to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. The debate was suspended for a week.

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