JIS News

Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Audley Shaw, has said that his Ministry is working to make the Customs Department more comfortable for staff, as well as the general public.
He said that the Customs House, is already being repaired, noting that beyond the refurbishing of the facilities, efforts would be made to ensure that there was also adequate staffing available. “I want additional customs officers, I want additional people in the valuation branch, I want additional people wherever they are needed so that we can truly put the users of the wharf and Customs first,” Mr. Shaw said.
He was speaking at the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Customs Tariff and Port Users Committee, 7th Annual Customs Seminar at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston recently.
He also noted that the Department had to be “cleaned up”, stating the reasons as having to do with revenue protection; the protection of fair competition; national security issues related to illicit imports, especially of firearms, and ammunition and other dangerous weapons, as well as drugs and the transshipment of drugs.
In addition, he said trade facilities would have to be enhanced, to improve turn-around time. The current turn around time for import and export in Jamaica, he said, is “somewhere between 20 and 22 days depending on whether you are importing or exporting. The Commissioner of Customs has advised me, that his intention is to, over time, significantly improve that, and by my information, he has already started in earnest on that improvement programme,” Mr. Shaw noted.
He pointed out that in other jurisdictions, such as Singapore and Panama, the turn around time for import and export is between two and five days. “It is unacceptable that our turn around time should be between 20 to 22 days,” he pointed out.
On another matter, the Finance Minister urged the public to take advantage during the month of October of the tax amnesty programme which he introduced in April, and which ends this month (Oct.). “I know it is difficult. Some persons would like to take advantage, but they are in difficult times,” he said, suggesting that those who “can’t take maximum opportunity of the amnesty, (should) come in and talk to your Inland Revenue Compliance Officer..If you can’t make all the payments on the principal, come in, set out a plan, set out a payment plan. Because after that, I still have the discretion as Minister to waive interest and penalties, based on the goodwill that you demonstrate in coming forward to work out a plan,” he stressed.
He reiterated that revenue administration in Jamaica, had to be improved “because we have to bring back to our country, an elevated level of respect for paying taxes,” he pointed out. He noted, however, that since the amnesty, almost 4,000 additional people have been brought into the tax net, “and we want to continue to see that.”
The Finance Minister further pointed out that in the last five months of the fiscal year, after October, the next phase of the programme will focus on an aggressive compliance programme, “leaving out no group, no sector, everybody is going to be expected to come into the net and play your part. Once we do that, the more compliance we have and the more people in the tax net, is the more we are going to be in a position to lower the overall rates of taxes, whether it is corporate income tax, personal income tax, or even, perhaps, consumption tax”.
He stressed that the more persons pay, then the burden becomes lighter for everyone.
Mr. Shaw noted that he was serious about revenue administration and assured that tax reform was being worked on. “By the time of the next fiscal year, we will probably announce a number of major initiatives. We are now working on the consolidation of statutory deductions, to make the process simpler, and I’m hoping shortly, to bring the proposals to Cabinet. But this year, I am working on administrative reform and operational reforms to improve the system,” he noted.
He noted that there were teams in Jamaica, from the International Monetary Fund, reviewing proposals for the administrative reform of tax administration, as well as representatives from the Treasury Department, the Customs Department, and the Internal Revenue Service Department of the United States. We have had an excellent round of meetings, where they have gone into all of our departments, they are preparing a report now where we will begin to do some adjustments on the basis of just the indicative information that they have seen already, and to cross-fertilise it with their own knowledge and experience,” Mr. Shaw informed.
The Minister said the intention is to make it easier to pay taxes, “it is to see how we can cut down on the long lines in the tax offices..we really don’t want paying taxes to be a burden on the people of Jamaica. So beyond the points they have already shown us, we have also asked for technical assistance, where they will send other experts on a periodic basis to assist us in making our programme much more efficient.”