Opposition: Is customs broker ‘integration’ legal?


Tribune Business Reporter


THE Opposition’s finance spokesman last night queried whether the Customs laws and regulations must be changed before mandating that brokers acquire third-party software to “integrate” with its electronic import clearance system.

Kwasi Thompson, also east Grand Bahama’s MP, described the move as “unfair and possibly illegal” while also suggesting that it will undermine the ease and cost of doing business in The Bahamas. He spoke out after one Grand Bahama-based Customs broker spoke of his resentment at being forced to acquire software for integrating with the Electronic Single Window (ESW) known as Click2Clear.

Antoine Brooks, Island Traders Shop & Ship’s managing director, told Tribune Business: “The Customs Department offered to get us a free integrated system, but they never got back to us. I can’t do anything about the changes. I don’t agree with them. But if they are going to implement something new I thought they would give us something free to use, but it seems as if they have gone back on their words on that.

The cost is getting to me. We can’t pay that cost on a recurring basis, and they want us to have this in place for January 15. It is an alarming precedent that’s going on with the Government. They did it with the grocers and they did it with the pharmacies, and are doing it to us now. They just constantly keep implementing these programmes with no type of dialogue and no type of communication with the stakeholders.”

Customs had previously mandated that brokers elsewhere in The Bahamas be fully “integrated” with its electronic goods clearance platform, Click2Clear, by January 2, 2023.

A flyer on the initiative, published last year, warned brokers, in-house brokers, retailers and wholesalers that all major importers “must submit Customs declarations via integration to Click2Clear. Bahamas Customs will not accept manual declarations nor documents. Only integration submissions will be accepted”.

The flyer named two suitable suppliers of the necessary software “integration”, Information Systems Ltd (ISL) and its SWIM product, and GAAC. However, rather than mandate that brokers and major importers use the services of either of these two entities, the Customs flyer said firms can “seek the services of an independent program developer”.

A subsequent January 3, 2023, notice warned that from Tuesday last week “integration is mandatory for the submission of declarations by all parties”. Previously, entries could be submitted directly to Click2Clear, but they now can only be processed through “integrated” third-party software - something that brokers have said adds to the cost of doing business.

Mr Brooks still feels pressured into purchasing one of the providers named by the Government. “If we want to continue in business we have to pay one of those companies to be able to go on, and we have no choice because this is our livelihood,” he added. “We all are against it and we all hate it, but what are we going to do?

“Mr (Simon) Wilson, (the financial secretary), is always saying in the press that this is not a mandatory thing, but it is mandatory because if we don’t use the new integration we can’t get on to the system to satisfy our customers. Our business comes to a standstill. So don’t say it isn’t mandatory when it is mandatory.”

The Ministry of Finance has been pushing the “integration” because it is presently unable to obtain the data it requires under Click2Clear’s present system. It has also complained about misclassified tariff headings and other problems with entries.

Mr Thompson, in his statement, said: “We are reliably advised that the Ministry of Finance is now forcing all Customs brokers to implement a costly computer integration system in order to use Bahamas Customs Click2Clear system. They must also pay a monthly fee just to maintain the computer integration. This is an added cost and added burden on the backs of small businesses who already are struggling to survive.

“This unfair decision raises several questions. Is this legal? What legal statute gives the Ministry of Finance the authority to impose this charge? Why is Customs’ system itself not being changed to make the necessary integration? Wouldn’t this be the more secure way of dealing with these issues? Why are brokers being asked to pay for this costly integration? Why is the Government refusing to listen to the business community and the broker community in implementation?”

Continuing with his questions, Mr Thompson added: “How can the Government prevent a duly-licensed Customs broker who has paid his fee from operating in The Bahamas if they have not implemented this new system? Wouldn’t the Customs Management Regulations need to be amended in order to make this mandate legal?

“Many Customs brokers have continued to complain that the integration is unnecessary, and the same conclusion could be accomplished in another way that does not involve the heavy expense to Customs brokers who have indicated that the cost will unfortunately be passed on to the public. The Government’s implementation of the new integration has lacked clarity, caused much confusion, and increased the costs of doing business in the Bahamas.

“This will ultimately increase the burden for all Bahamians and increase the costs for all imported goods including food, building supplies and all essential items. The Government should be finding ways to fight inflation. However, they are making import costs even more expensive. We call upon the Government to reverse its course and fulfill its promise to bring relief to the people of The Bahamas.”

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