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‘Click2wait’ - Brokers Blast New System

By YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporter

Frustrated brokers have blasted Customs’ new system as “a dinosaur that has set us back 20 years”, resulting in lost business and a near five-fold increase in the time required to complete entries.

Multiple industry operators told Tribune Business that the department’s electronic single window (BESW) initiative, branded Click2Clear, has thus far failed to deliver on any of the benefits that were promised as part of an initiative to bring Customs and The Bahamas’ cross-border trade into the 21st century via the embrace of technology.

Several have described the platform, which was rolled out two months’ ago on October 1 for all seaborne freight coming into New Providence, as a “real rough” adjustment and a “giant step back from the old system”.

Among the brokers’ major complaints are that, prior to the system’s implementation, they were informed that import shipments would be immediately released once due taxes (VAT and duties/excise tax) was paid on the declaration.

This was intended to speed up the clearance of goods at the border, benefiting Bahamian merchants, wholesalers and other importers through reduced supply chain delays and associated logistical costs. However, in practice, this is not happening as Customs is still insisting on checking consignments prior to their clearance even if taxes have been paid. “Customs can’t let go,” one source said.

Other issues include “significant delays” to the replenishment of companies’ performance bonds with Customs even after due taxes are paid, and problems processing shipments where VAT waivers are required. The latter is understood to have added an extra business day to processing/clearance times alone.

With both brokers, importers and Customs still “trying to learn” the new system, some added that “the real challenge” is the fact that Bahamians were not properly educated on how the clearance process has in effect been reversed. While taxes were previously paid at the end, after Customs finished its verification process, they now have to be submitted at the start.

Kenneth Gibson, chief executive of Five Star Brokers, told Tribune Business: “It’s been rough. Real, real rough. You know it’s a learning curve and the real issues that we are really having is the fact of us not getting the support from Customs.

“For example, we have clients that have concessions, and.... Customs is now taking their time in terms of processing it, citing that there are people ahead you and you have to wait. But with high-end projects, time is money and most times the processing times, for example, I have entries in here from last week.”

“We had a meeting with the Customs Comptroller (Dr Geanine Moss) and her team, and they said they would address it, but we are still having the same issues. If anything were to happen where you would need support from Customs after 5pm in the evening, dog eat your lunch,” Mr Gibson added.

“The other thing that we face is that the way the program is written. They have it where, as a broker, the clients who I process have to come back to me in order for me to supply them with an update as far as what the next step is in the process.

“You know, if I have 50 people in front of me and I’m trying to make money from these 50 persons, the 50 ones from yesterday I have to still look in their face because Customs are sending them to me to check the system to see if their entries can be processed. The Comptroller said that they will rewrite programme so the client can directly be advised as to what stage they are in the process.

“Customs told me they would be back with us ‘shortly’, but you know how that is. It has been two weeks since we had that meeting with Dr Moss and her team, and we have heard nothing yet,” Mr Gibson continued.

“Because of the hiccups now, I don’t even want to take my customers’ money because there is no clear path in terms of timeframe from when to start and when to finish. Some people, when I tell them, ‘Listen, I cant take you money. I prefer for you to come back when you have registered’, I don’t ever see those people any more. I have had five or six of them a day walk away from my building. I’m losing $500 to $1,000 a day.”

A November 8, 2019, letter sent by Christina Taylor, general manager at Pinder’s Customs Brokerage, to the firm’s clients details the specific challenges all brokers and importers have had with the new Customs system.

“One of the largest proposed benefits of clearance on BESW was that the process would be automated,” the letter, seen by Tribune Business, states. “It was stressed to us repeatedly in the training sessions with Customs that once taxes were paid for a declaration, shipments would be (essentially) instantly released, so that goods could be picked up and delivered very shortly after payment.

“It was stated that the process we used to call entry checking would occur as post-auditing – officers would do their checking/auditing of declarations days/weeks after a declaration had been paid/released/delivered. This is not what is happening so far.

“Instead, for standard, non-expedited shipments, we have been instructed that we must first pay the taxes and fees for the Declaration, then wait for Customs to perform the entry checking step before the shipment can be released to be picked up. As I mentioned above, we were told that this checking would be done in a post-audit. This has caused tremendous delays in processing shipments.”

Ms Taylor added that “significant delays” were also being experienced with the clearance of “expedited shipments”, such as cargos of perishable foodstuffs, which which were previously dealt with using Customs form C19. Now, an expedited release form and processing fee has to be submitted to the new system, with Customs’ approval again required before the import shipment can be collected.

“Again, this was not how BESW was presented in the years leading up to it,” Ms Taylor wrote. “One of its primary benefits was the speed with which goods could be cleared and released – expedited or not.

“Expedited Releases for FCL (full container load) shipments produce even further delays. We cannot submit (and then pay for) the follow-up declaration (for duty/taxes) until Customs officers have performed their container examination and submitted their report in BESW. This is critical because it means your bond is not being replenished in a timely manner.”

Bond sums were also not being restored when Customs duties/taxes are paid, as “the declaration must be processed by officers in a different department of Customs. We have seen significant delays as a result of this”.

“A further source of delay occurs when a shipment requires VAT to be waived. This is not an automated process – it requires approval from a very small number of officers – so each and every shipment requiring VAT to be waived incurs a delay of at least one business day,” Ms Taylor continued.

“There are several other parts of the process that remain challenging because they are out of our control. This includes delays in receiving manifest numbers (we cannot submit any declarations until the shipping lines provide these numbers). Also, we have found that in a significant number of cases, declarations have been incorrectly rejected. This requires us to them resubmit and wait for approval.

“We know that they were incorrectly rejected because we resubmit the exact same declaration and then it is approved. We find that this has happened, in particular, with most of the multiple-declaration shipments (some dutiable items, some concession items) that we have processed.”

Neither Customs’ Dr Moss, nor Marlon Johnson, the Ministry of Finance’s acting financial secretary, responded to multiple Tribune Business calls and messages seeking comment before press time.

K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister and minister of finance, acknowledged the issues when contacted by Tribune Business as he returned to this country from Europe. “All I can say about it is we’re aware of the complaints and are working through it, and will hopefully sort it out in short order.”

The Electronic Single Window (ESW) is a key component of the Government’s efforts to modernise and digitise critical public services. Besides improving border revenue collection, and helping to crack down on tax evasion, fraud and related crime by identifying high-risk shipments and importers, the system was also hailed as a means to improve the speed and efficiency of cross-border commerce.

Apart from aiding the proposed World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession, its electronic platform was designed to play a key role for an economy that is almost totally reliant on imports for everything it consumes. However, the delays and confusion in the immediate aftermath of implementation threaten to bottleneck retail/wholesale supply chains at the worst possible time just before Christmas, when import volumes tend to peak amid merchants’ rushing to stock up.

Another Customs Broker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “I could add about ten paragraphs about a program that was probably written decades ago and somehow sold to us. Every broker agrees it has set us back 20 years.

“It is like using a dinosaur where you repeat steps, where it cannot tell you which items you enter came from what invoice to balance against, where it repeatedly asks the same question over, and it cannot even allocate the dock for the release station when you put the vessel name in, pro rate freight or even accept a duty free code against an item.

“You have to make one entry for dutiable items, one for duty-free concession items, one for excise tax concessions, all for one bill of lading. What took us five hours to produce an entry for now takes three days,” they added.

“Whoever bought this never sat down to see how it worked. It’s a dinosaur that is dropping the ease of doing business hundreds of times lower, and the country’s ease of doing business status will reflect it. It cannot pro rate even simple things like sales tax. It must have been written decades ago by someone who loved repetition and did not have a grasp of making more than a one-item entry from one supplier. I had to laugh recently when I saw Lynn Holowesko worry that we had lost a point (in the World Bank rankings). One point? We will be down hundreds on the next survey.”

Comments

proudloudandfnm 1 week, 3 days ago

Peter and Marlon strike again, every time those two jokers say they've done something to increase ease of doing business it gets harder to do business.

Time for the two of them to go back to private life, they obviously don't get it.....

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proudloudandfnm 1 week, 3 days ago

I know one thing, better not bring this system to GB, our shipyard needs cargo delivered the day it arrives, if we cannot accommodate that the shipyard will find another place to operate.

This system cannot possibly work in GB.....

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Sickened 1 week, 2 days ago

Sounds like yet another system 'improvement' that wasn't thought through or tested before being implemented.

Dog eat all our lunch.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 2 days ago

hmmm I wonder if this system could have been done in phases. Not sure, some systems don't lend to a phased approach, but it's easier to manage. What happened to the Delivery Unit? What's more troubling than the system glitches is it seems the flow doesnt match what users need to do. Indicates they didn't involve stakeholders in the design or the testing, they didnt pick the right/complete set of stakeholders or they didn't take their suggestions seriously. Also going to bet that someone pushed the delivery for a specific date to get political points, that's ok to do if key/critical deliverables are in place.

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Dawes 1 week, 2 days ago

Sounds like Customs is not living up to there part. If they are meant to be releasing it straight away and they are not then it is them that are the hold up. Too often Government works out these new plans but their officers do not do what they are meant to do. Of course by holding up the shipments it probably increases the amounts the brokers are willing to pay.

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John 1 week, 2 days ago

It seems that the person who wrote the program did another snow job on The Bahamas Government vis a vis The Customs Department. They changed up the entry presentation and added some fancy terms to make the programming appear new but it is less efficient and hence less effective. For example when an accountant is filing a vat return under the old system they can just pull the total vat off a completed entry. Now under the new system the accountant must get the vat on the goods, the vat on the processing fee, the vat on storage etc. so there may be five or six different vat charges but no total. And they require you to pay for your entry before it is checked by customs. If there is an error you have to pay $25 to make the amendment ( remember you already paid a processing fee. And if you overpaid on your entry, you will have to pay $75 to get a refund otherwise leave your money with customs until you have another shipment, then use it as a credit. This government seems determined to make everything in this country as faustrating as possible, as expensive as possible as inefficient as possible while they continue to borrow money in all quarters like drunken sailors and continue to squeeze the local economy by its testicles.

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banker 1 week, 2 days ago

The application is friggin hilarious. It is a Mickey Mouse application done in javascript with templates that you can download. The company Crimson Logic charged an arm and a leg for minimal work. Any grade 9 student could have done it. Want proof? Go to the portal window and right click and click on view page source. You will see shiite like this from the template:

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged.

This shiite, paragraphs of it, is just left there and not displayed. These lines are actually copied from the source code of The Bahamas government website making us look stupid and foolish and amateurish. It is kiddie scripting. You can see a lot more of it. It is outrageous. Crimson Logic couldn't even be bothered to clean up the code. This has been copied directly from a typesetting/printing template.

If the government had a CIO to make sure that they got value for money, this would never pass. Any Bahamian high school student who knows HTML could have made this by downloading the template.

Once again, the idiots in government who bought this, misspent taxpayers money.

When is the government gonna smarten up, and actually hire someone who knows IT? They can see the rubes in government coming a mile away, and they pick their pockets and give them crap. They charge software engineering fees for stupid website code off the internet.

Unreal. I'm a banker and I could do a better job. This really p!sses me off.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 2 days ago

OMG assuming you're correct..but on the other hand, sometimes Loren ipsum is just used as intended, "filler text" until actual content can be created...it's also not unusual for programmers to have old code in deployed projects. It would be nice "if" they cleaned everything but it's not always done. time pressure...I bet you you can find old code lodged somewhere in the Microsoft arsenal.

I've interacted with some young programmers before, they do tend to use languages like JavaScript and python (popular because theyre fairly easy to learn), they get stuff done very quickly but they've never learned programming principles.. (In fact this is one of thd debates over teaching young children to write code, is it really helping them to be good programmers...) I've no idea if that's the case here.

I'm still going to bet the problem here is bad requirements gathering. Low to no stakeholder involvement

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Zakary 1 week, 2 days ago

I believe you are 100% correct banker. My programming friends have tipped me off on something similar and said that the government got ripped off. We are being governed by fools.

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John 1 week, 2 days ago

Another problem is custom officers have to manually move some entries from one department to another. Say, for example if an entry has to go to Valuation. Once the value is approved the entry should be sent to releasing section ( in the program). But when you get to the dock the officer will tell you they cannot release your goods because the entry is still in Valuations. Some officers may be nice enough of helpful enough to call Valuations and ask them to release the entry, but others will make you drive beck to customs and have you deal with them yourself. Inefficient and time consuming. Then they also want to tie in your drivers license and vehicle plate to your entry, claiming it is to ensure only the consigned is picking up the goods.

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banker 1 week, 1 day ago

See, if it were properly engineered as a smart platform, instead of a website, there would be logic to automatically assert Valuations and do a database change to allow pickup. The current website is just that, a stupid website instead of an engineered platform.

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The_Oracle 1 week, 2 days ago

Click to Clear (or wait) cannot be implemented in G.B. For very good reason. Never.

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Porcupine 1 week, 2 days ago

I wonder if there is strong visceral objection to changing a system that has single handedly helped corrupt an entire nation's people? Just wondering, as it seems that some pretty big money was being made by some people by having the old system in place. I am amazed at how many well-to-do customs officials there are, especially given a government's salary. Just saying.

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ThisIsOurs 1 week, 1 day ago

True, there will always be objections to change...but the problems they describe in the article are issues of bad design. It's obvious brokers weren't involved in a meaningful way in the design of the system. Also recall that Turnquest put brakes on the rollout a few days ago...cant recall exact details, that indicates to me that it's more than just bad apples complaining.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 1 week, 1 day ago

LMAO......once again there will be no consequences for the corrupt individuals who made out like bandits from the sale and installation of yet another failed and useless data gathering and information processing system......leaving us taxpayers with more national debt and taxes to pay.

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