Business Slams 500% Customs Burden Rise


Ken Hutton


Tribune Business Reporter


The government yesterday promised that Customs’ new system will “smooth out” after furious Abaco businesses blasted a “400-500 percent” increase in the goods clearance workload.

Ken Hutton, the Abaco Chamber of Commerce’s president, estimated this was the increase in delays and bureaucracy associated with clearing imports through the Customs Department’s Electronic Single Window (ESW) system that was installed on the island within the last couple of weeks.

Abaco’s business community was described as “extremely upset” over “delays and added expenses” created by the transition to the new digital process. Mr Hutton warned that, unless rectified, these issues will increase the cost of clearing goods and, ultimately, the cost of living as any price rises will be passed on to consumers.

“We reached out to the government about a week-and-a-half ago,” he told Tribune Business. “We have been in regular communication with Customs and the Ministry of Finance. They are working to help us work through all the issues, but there are a tremendous amount of issues still being worked on.

“We are very concerned about this. We received feedback from the customs brokers, other importers and many of our Chamber members on Abaco and the Cays. The feedback has been fairly robust.”

K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, in a statement issued to Tribune Business last night said all parties - Customs, brokers and the private sector - had “to raise their standard” in moving away from an “antiquated” Customs system responsible for major revenue losses and leakages.

While acknowledging that the ESW’s arrival had created “a learning curve” for all involved with the importation of goods into The Bahamas, Mr Turnquest said the experience on less populated Family Islands showed the transition would “smooth out” once everyone became familiar with the new system.

“With the transition to the new system, there is no denying that everyone has to raise their standard of operations, and that means the Department of Customs and our business stakeholders,” said Mr Turnquest.

“We are transitioning from an antiquated system that had ineffective controls to a new system that follows international best practices and requires a higher level of compliance. It requires more detailed information from businesses so we can have more accurate records and properly account for Government revenue. With every new system there is a learning curve, and the new Customs portal is no different.”

Describing the ESW as one element in a “major modernisation effort” designed to bring Customs on to an online platform, the deputy prime minister added: “The weaknesses in the old system, quite frankly, are responsible for much of the leakage we see in Government revenue, so we are committed to working with our stakeholders to make this work.

“Our experience in the Family Islands, as in Nassau with air cargo operators, has shown that once businesses become familiar with the new system and accustomed to the online process, operations smooth out.”

Mr Turnquest continued: “That being said, I am pleased to see Customs has been proactive in responding to the feedback provided by businesses and is engaging business stakeholders directly.

“I know they met with The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday and have been in regular contact with the Abaco Chamber of Commerce ever since their specific concerns were brought to the forefront. This is a partnership and we will work closely with businesses to address their individual and collective needs when it comes to transitioning to the new system.”

Mr Hutton, meanwhile, said the major concern was the extra workload associated with clearing imported goods through the ESW. “It’s the added workload that is causing the delays and added expense,” he explained.

“There are still significant delays clearing goods, and there are issues still yet to be dealt with properly. The biggest issue is that the actual workload in clearing goods has increased between 400-500 per cent.”

The Chamber president continued: “It’s definitely affecting the clearance of goods out of the port and, based upon how much extra time and work it’s taking to do these entries on the ESW system, I can foresee that the cost of clearing goods is definitely going to increase and that’s going to increase the cost of living in Abaco. An entry that would normally take three hours is now taking a day-and-a-half. An entry that used to cover one page on a C13 now covers 15 pages or more.”

Lance Pinder, operations manager at Abaco Big Bird, told Tribune Business: “The business community is very upset. Brokers are working until midnight. We do our own brokerage at the farm so we know. It’s really time consuming and unclear. It was put into effect with almost no warning.

“I have talked with other business people and we expect it will raise prices around 5 per cent. People are having to hire more staff. People in Green Turtle Cay are having issues because their stuff can’t be cleared in time to catch the weekly mailboat, so it’s stuck in Marsh Harbour for a week. It’s really putting a mental and physical strain on people here in Abaco.”

Mr Pinder added: “We are in an extra mess here at the farm because duty free permits take four to six weeks or longer to process through agriculture, so we are left in a position of not being compliant with Customs rules and timelines for clearing our items or pay duties on farm supplies.”

One broker told Tribune Business: “It’s an extremely cumbersome process. It’s not an issue of people being resistant to change. We understand what the ESW is all about. I just don’t think it was rolled out properly. It’s a major headache right now.”

The ESW platform is intended to reform and modernise the Customs Department’s operations, facilitating one point of access for brokers and businesses within The Bahamas through its connection to various government agencies.

However, fears are already being raised about how the transition on New Providence will go once the roll-out begins on the most-populated island. One posting to The Tribune’s website yesterday said: “Y’all think it’s bad now? Wait till the new Customs single window hits Arawak Cay in Nassau in September like it did Abaco two weeks ago. People working night, day, weekends and holidays just to get freight off the dock.”


birdiestrachan 1 year, 3 months ago

Turnquest, doc and Mr: C A smith all have to live the big life. So taxes will increase.

Doc travels wine dine and dance, soon they will have squeezed all the blood out of the Bahamian people.


birdiestrachan 1 year, 3 months ago

lest we forget the office of the spouse 10,000 dollars just for tea they say.


DDK 1 year, 3 months ago

I wonder just how much The People paid for this dumb a - - system and who was the idiot that actually thought it would be a good thing? If it was the DPM he should resign NOW. How DARE they dump this load of bull on the citizens of this Country?? Just wait till it hits the Capital. Maybe The People will finally take to the streets in earnest.


proudloudandfnm 1 year, 3 months ago

Damn man. Throwing darts and missing targets.....

More time for clearance, more stupid demands for documents that make no sense, more costs for clearance, the Bahamas just more expensive. Again.

This FNM just cannot do anything right....

Just because it's considered "international best practice" does not mean it's best for us.

Stop, think, watch, learn, then act. We didn't need more bureaucracy.

Just because some foreigner tells you it's better does not mean it's better.

And are we not moving away from the tariff system to make the WTO happy? So why do all of this for something that's temporary????

SO does this mean we have to live with VAT and Duty for the rest of our existence?????


Damn man...


bcitizen 1 year, 3 months ago

" the private sector - had “to raise their standard” " lol that is rich coming from the Bahamas government. Their bar is as low as it has ever been. Ease of doing business rating will be lowest on earth soon.


newcitizen 1 year, 3 months ago

Well if you want to wait for the government to raise their standard then we'll wait forever. Always an excuse for us not to move forward.


truetruebahamian 1 year, 3 months ago

This has to be one of the most damn fool actions and statements supporting those actions ever made so far by K. Petey Turnquest!


DDK 1 year, 3 months ago

I am told that 27 TWENTY-SEVEN entries have to be clicked on for each and every item cleared. WTF? They say the staff at the brokerage firms are crying.


observer2 1 year, 3 months ago

Too much itemization, customs rates, Vat exceptions and customs categories used to compile worthless statistics on what is imported. Power outage also causes inputs to be lost and computers fried.

The problem is not the system but dysfunctional FNM and PLP leadership.

Pray tell we why the Finance Minister has to be so granularly involved the details of computer software?

Until the politician get out of the business of electrical power, water, telephone, road works, mail delivery, ports, airports education Bahamians will continue to punish with a poor quality of life.


TalRussell 1 year, 3 months ago

I know in affirmative that our comrade Abacoians are closing down their support Imperials red shirts, unless there be's sooner than later leadership adjustment, yes, no .... Abacoians are serious about wanting see a no rush to a leader change, whereby the acting leader must upfront disqualify themselves from contesting for the party's top leadership ....


TheMadHatter 1 year, 3 months ago

Maybe the PM or DPM can just order the police to come around and shoot all of us dead? That might be a simpler and less costly process to achieve the same goal? Then the WTO, the Haitians, the Guatemalans, and whoever else wants to come and take over our country will be free and clear to do so. Don't bother with all this mumbo jumbo. Just speak the truth up front and act accordingly.


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