By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Large Bahamian merchants and importers yesterday echoed broker concerns over Customs’ new digital platform, with one blasting: “This is the worst thing I have ever confronted.”
Lance Major, in-house customs broker for the d’Albenas Agency, told Tribune Business that the new Electronic Single Window (ESW) system, known as Click2Clear, had created “extra work for every department in this office” since it went live for seaborne imports to New Providence on October.
Revealing that the switch-over has put he wholesaler back on four out of every five days in the working week, Mr Major said: “This really is a setback. It is taking you twice the amount of time it used to take us on the old eCAS (Electronic Customs Automated Services) than it is now with this single window system.
“The shipment company is charging you storage and extra amounts if you don’t get your shipments off the dock in time. We have a shipping company with the manifest that now comes out 24 hours later than it was supposed to. If you have a LCL (less than container load) shipment that comes in on the boat, it takes you some 24 hours before you can get the manifest number. That is a big, big, big setback. It seems like you are working your butt off but you can’t get anything done. “
Wade Thompson, in-house customs broker for Super Value, said: “We’ve had our challenges, but we are working our way through. We had a couple of shipments that we were not able to get through the system because of the massive amount of data we have coming in. The majority of our files are electronic files and, if you can imagine, it is a whole lot of data to be uploaded into the single window and we have had some challenges on our side as well as on the Customs Department side.”
Asked whether Super Value’s imports had been delayed as a result, with the retailer incurring increased costs, Mr Thompson said: “The only big shipment that we have pending is some groceries that came in last week, but that particular shipment and a couple of the ones we have coming now we have been experiencing some issues uploading the files to Customs.
“That may be an internal issue more than it is external in terms of our system at Super Value. We now have our programmer looking at some issues on our side. I have checked with some of our competitors and they seem to be OK, but the difference is that they are using a separate system than what we are using.
“But in terms of cost, we would have incurred quite some demurrage and storage charges on some shipments prior, but we are trying to resolve our issues internally to ensure that we don’t have any issues on our side before we turn to Customs,” he continued.”
“Generally speaking the program is challenging, but what most persons and some of the businesses I have spoken to said is they were not aware that the new system was supposed to make the Customs clearing system easier and more fluid, and you are supposed to walk step-by-step, get your cargo and go.
“What people find most challenging is that you pay your duty, and then Customs checks your entry that you presented, which is reverse of what the old system was. So what happens now is that you take your entry and prepare it, you submit it through the single window, the single window then processes it through for payment, and then you go and pay. After you have paid you then have to wait until Customs processes your paperwork and, if there is a problem, then you may have a further delay in getting your cargo because whatever the issue is would have to be addressed and fixed.”
Mr Thompson said there was typically a 24-hour turnaround time between paying due taxes on an import shipment and picking the cargo up, provided Customs had no issues.
“Understand what is now happening with this system,” he added. “Unlike before with the eCAS, where you make up an entry and you submit it, it may sit there, but a Customs officer may pick up the electronic file that you sent, check your documentation and once everything is okay they clear it for you to pay and, once you pay, then you can go and pick up your cargo.
“The reverse is happening here with the electronic single window. You submit your documents, the system green-light’s you to go and pay, but now after you have paid you have to sit and wait for an officer to check your documentation.
“The major issue with this is that once you paid it may take a day or two before someone picks it up and looks at it, and green-lights it further for pick-up. Most of the persons I have spoken to prefer it the old way. People expect that when they pay the Government, they expect to go and get their stuff,” Mr Thompson said
“The case is that you pay the government now, and then you pause and wait for Customs to now tell you that you can pick up your goods. People are now stunned, because you have now collected my money and are now telling me that I have to wait.”
Another in-house broker for a large import wholesaler, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business: “The process is too tedious and too long. I have always had a beautiful relationship with the Customs department with me being a former customs officer myself, but I don’t think this new system should have been implemented at this time.
“I know they have a particular mandate by the Prime Minister’s Office/ the Ministry of Finance ,having already been granted loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to put this thing through. But I think the thing with this is the removal of the automatic feature and now, because there is manual intervention, it may be causing a lot of backlog.”
They explained: “The system was designed for electronic submission of data and, once you pay, it is supposed go through the system electronically from one stage to the next stage to allow the in-house broker to see the stages online when they would advise their client when their goods are ready for collection.
“That shouldn’t take more than a half an hour because it is done electronically. But what they have done is remove the automatic feature and now there is manual intervention at the second stage, which is processing the entry as it was accustomed to. So what they have done is effectively remove the ease of doing business and are now are intervening manually.”
The in-house broker continued: “The process has a lot of repetition in submitting the documents. I would go to put in the address of a supplier and the system would then go back and ask me to resubmit the same information I just gave them on a previous page.
“The system is designed to determine whether or not the shipment should be examined, but they have removed that to some degree whereby you have officers determining whether a shipment should be examined, claiming that they understand that is not what the system is designed for, but they are doing it any how.”
Confirming that brokers and wholesalers had met with Customs and the Ministry of Finance on the issue some two weeks ago, the in-house broker said the industry was still waiting to see how their concerns will be addressed.
“We had a meeting with the Ministry of Finance and the financial secretary, Marlon Johnson, two weeks ago, and we raised some of the concerns but I am not sure they had time to effect those changes,” the source said.
“We had Customs comptroller, Dr Geanine Moss, along with the administrator of the system as well as two other Customs officials in addition to two representatives form Crimsonlogic, the firm from Singapore that programmed the system, and a group of wholesalers along with the financial secretary and his officials from the ministry. All of these issues were addressed in that meeting two weeks ago.”