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KINGSTON – Director of Port Clearance Audit at the Customs Department, Gail Dennis-White, says the agency and its clients stand to gain significant benefits from its transition to Executive Agency status, within the next 24 months.

Speaking at a recent Customs and Freight Forwarders Association of Jamaica (CBFFAJ) forum, at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Andrew, she pointed to six significant accruable benefits which would enable effective and efficient delivery of the Department’s services to its clients.

These benefits, she outlined, include: a secure channel for trade and travel; real time access to internal and external information; customer-oriented accounts-centric business processes; enhanced governance structures and frameworks; knowledge-based organisation functions; and simplified business processes.

Regarding the secured channel for trade and travel, Mrs. Dennis-White explained that this category would make provisions for  more in-depth surveillance and selective inspection programmes; increased security with faster clearance capacity; and risk targeting, based on comprehensive and accurate information.

The Director said real time access to internal and external information would entail the establishment of electronic channels for a broad range of submissions, as well as information and services; and networked collaboration within Customs, with other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) and key stakeholders, such as customs brokers.

It would also include data collection and utilisation, as well as more integrated business intelligence technologies, and more effective programmes, resulting in higher productivity and enhanced services to clients, inclusive of importers and exporters.

Regarding the other three benefits, Mrs. Dennis-White pointed out that for governance, the focus is on “greater autonomy over our resources,” inclusive of the human, financial and physical aspects. This area, she added, would also entail strengthening policy development and execution capacity; enhanced transparency and consistency in customs administration; increased focus on anti-corruption initiatives; and greater accountability, “as the tenure of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and second tier managers will be directly linked to fixed term performance-based contracts."

The Director informed that knowledge-based organisation functions would entail automatic information screening and alerts, tailored to account activities; user-defined information profiles to customise results to roles and tasks; a single window to government for border regulation, which she explained “will reduce the complexity , redundancy and burdens that we currently have in trade,” as well as data-driven decision making.

In the area of simplified business processes, Mrs. Dennis-White said these would relate to cargo clearance, passenger processing, revenue collection and reporting, exemption review and administration, and documentation requirements.

Outlining the Customs Department’s existing operational structure, Mrs. Dennis-White pointed out that the agency’s corporate services framework involves “very integral resources,” incorporating human resources, the physical environment, and communications, with each “having what we want to improve for the Executive Agency (status), moving forward."

She explained  that,  “for our people resource, we want improved individual performance and more training opportunities. For governance (we want) greater accountability… strengthened policy integration, and development capacity."

“For our physical environment (we want) improved aesthetics, greater emphasis on occupational safety, and (for) communication – improved access to information, internally and externally, and an improved communication infrastructure,” she added.

The Director noted that currently, the Customs Department has “limited” automation, and risk-based controls, citing the need to upgrade  the ICT initiatives.

Mrs. Dennis-White pointed out that the rationale for the Customs Department’s transformation to Executive Agency  status primarily arises from the need to improve its operations.  These, she pointed out, include: the need to revamp a “fairly” paper-based system; better inter-agency co-operation and in-border management; high physical verification; and increased post-clearance audits.

“In the future, we are looking to be more customer-oriented;  have more accounts-centric business processes; increased surveillance and security, with faster clearance; harmonised and simplified procedures; intelligence-based focus; flexible solutions to greater voluntary compliance; maximum ICT use; implementation of the e-government strategy; strategic trade integration; and the one-stop approach,” she said.             

 

By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter