- As the Government moves to strengthen the public sector’s capacity to deliver high quality and efficient services, the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) is implementing new measures to streamline its business processes, so as to reduce transaction and waiting times for customers.
- One of the key initiatives being implemented by the JCA is the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programme.
- Launched in July 2014, in collaboration with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the programme is designed to encourage compliance and reduce security risks by certifying all relevant personnel within the import and export industry.
As the Government moves to strengthen the public sector’s capacity to deliver high quality and efficient services, the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) is implementing new measures to streamline its business processes, so as to reduce transaction and waiting times for customers.
“These customer service initiatives not only speak to the service delivery provided by our staff, but also all our business processes and of course updating our information systems technology,” Chief Executive Officer (CEO), JCA, Major Richard Reese, informs JIS News.
He says the agency is continually striving to enhance its services in an effort “to establish a culture that exemplifies quality customer service and high maintenance of service standards.”
Since receiving Executive Agency status in 2013, he notes that the entity has gone through a number of organisational changes in accordance with its long term modernisation plan.
“We are doing very well both in terms of revenue and trade facilitation within the confines of the existing legislation. So, we are now in the process of amending the laws to facilitate better trade,” the CEO says, adding that some of the laws have already been changed to support electronic transactions.
“Our regulations are to be amended to support the flexi-work week to look at shift systems, so we are continually in the mode of change and reviewing our business processes,” he adds.
One of the key initiatives being implemented by the JCA is the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) programme.
Launched in July 2014, in collaboration with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the programme is designed to encourage compliance and reduce security risks by certifying all relevant personnel within the import and export industry.
Major Reese explains that this will enable a faster clearance of goods to approved importers by requiring no pre-clearance checks by Customs, apart from the non-intrusive x-ray of the cargo. He says it will also improve the Customs-to-client relationship, customer service and the business processes of Jamaica Customs.
“The stage we are at now is validation of those existing operators to ensure full compliance with the programme and also to admit new applicants. This, of course, saves the importer or exporter time and we recognize that time is money,” he tells JIS News.
“There is a strategic partnership that is developed between AEO operators and Customs and ultimately it is our intention to establish mutual agreements with other countries, so that these benefits will also accrue to exporters when they are exporting to particular territories,” he continues.
Preparations are also ongoing for the introduction of an Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), a single window for all Customs activities to make clearance at customs much faster and to streamline all customs processes through an online platform.
“This system is web based and will support paperless declaration processing through the use of electronic documents,” Major Reese explains, noting that traders or their agents will be able to submit their declarations for clearance of goods through Customs from anywhere using the Internet.
“The system will gradually be introduced at Customs offices on a phased basis and by December 2016 it will be at Customs stations islandwide,” he says. Currently, 10 exporters, including Customs Brokers, are participating in a pilot for the export module of the project.
“The training will run for a few months, after which it will be evaluated, before we roll it out to public warehouses, international airports and other ports,” the CEO notes.
While facilitating the ease of trade, Major Reese said the system is expected “to increase our revenue by 20 per cent and reduce our administrative costs by 10 per cent.”
“Currently, our cost of operations is within international standards, so we are already operating efficiently in terms of our staffing, but there are gaps that need to be filled, especially in the areas of inspection, contraband enforcement and operations at the wharves,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Deputy CEO, Operations, JCA, Karlene Henry, tells JIS News that the agency has a mandate to offer good customer service to facilitate trade. She points to the introduction of the electronic Night Lodgement System as one of the successes of Customs, which has allowed customers to do business with ease.
“What this system allows is for our custom brokers to lodge entries up to 9:30 p.m. every night during the week. This is guaranteed processing where the entries are checked and returned to the custom broker by 8:00 a.m. the following morning,” she adds.
Mrs. Henry says the introduction of electronic payment has allowed for easy access to services at Customs and has eliminated the long queues, noting that the importer or broker can pay his or her duties online without using the cashier stations.
She also cites the establishment of a ‘One Stop’ Customer Service Centre at the agency’s head office, also called the ‘Modernisation Unit’, which facilitates customer service queries, updates on lodged entries and returning residents processing. “Whatever issues you have, you can go there to have them sorted out,” Mrs. Henry says.
Arrangements are also in place to conduct interviews with returning residents via Skype, if they are unable to travel for scheduled interviews.
Mrs. Henry says the public can obtain information on the JCA’s website: www.jacustoms.gov.jm, or they can call 1-888-991-3344 or 922-5140-9 or send queries to the quick response email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
For his part, President of the Jamaica Society of Customs Brokers, Junior Waugh, is pleased with the night lodgment system and the ‘One Stop’ Customer Service Centre.
“That is one of the best things they have done in terms of customer relations,” he tells JIS News.
“This has allowed us to plan and predict the clearance time, so basically you can submit your entries up by 9:30 p.m. at night and if they does not need any further processing, you are guaranteed to get them back the next morning, the latest 10 o’clock and your client is able to get the cargo during the course of that day,” he says, noting that previously it took one day for the documents to be returned.
He also lauds the implementation of the online payment facilities, allowing payments to be made with debit or credit cards.
“Everything is not 100 per cent like one would expect, but nothing ever is, so we always meet regularly to iron out the challenges that arise from time to time,” Mr. Waugh says.
A customer, Veta McPherson, who recently cleared cargo at the Kingston wharves, says she is happy with the service delivery.
“Big improvement! I was impressed, especially when you compare it to what happened a couple of years ago,” notes Ms. McPherson, adding that the service is much faster now, as it took her about two hours to locate and clear her cargo.
Director of Public Relations, JCA, Natalee Cameron, says staff members are being encouraged to adhere to the customer service standards.
“We have started to visit the out ports and warehouses, just to remind them of the service standards and what is expected of them and the maintenance of quality customer service,” she tells JIS News.