Nowhere is the impact of the liberalization of world trade and other economic developments more keenly felt than in the Customs administrations of the Caribbean. With the drive for global free trade and the development of enlarged regional free trade areas, our members are under great pressure to change. Traditional levels of control and service must change, as the cost of these operations to trade, industry, and the public alike become ever more prohibitive.
The modern customs administration makes a vital contribution to the objectives of Government in the following areas:
- The collection and protection of revenue;
- The protection of society through frontier and anti-smuggling controls.
- The implementation of financial, trade and foreign policies;
The CCLEC recognizes that its members need to demonstrate to government that this contribution can be made effectively, efficiently and economically.
In 1993, CCLEC participated with the WCO in some of the early development work of the Diagnostic Study. This study was a practical management tool for customs managers, which enabled them to make a self-analysis of their administration and the environment in which it operates. Administrations using the study were able to identify problems, their causes and solutions. The process included the creation of plans for reform, training and, where appropriate, assistance.
CCLEC supports members in the implementation of the recommended changes. During that time CRM programs were completed in the BVI, Grenada, St. Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, St Kitts, Turks & Caicos Islands and Trinidad & Tobago. Diagnostic studies were conducted in Antigua, Barbados and the Netherlands Antilles.
However at the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council’s 25th Annual Conference in Curaçao in 2002 Members identified a number of serious issues regarding the capacity of Customs in the region and needed assistance to cope with and keep pace with the continually changing demands from trade liberalisation, globalisation and international cross border crime.
They agreed that despite the critical role of Customs in providing the majority of revenue in the Caribbean Region and forming the first line of national, social and economic defence at the frontier, Customs in the region are often not recognised or valued according to their worth. This is reflected in the level of resources allocated to Customs in many countries of the region.
Ministers, policy makers, law enforcement bodies and international organisations need to be made aware of the important value and role of Customs and Revenue administrations in collecting national revenue, enforcing the law, securing the international trade supply chain, facilitating trade, and compiling international trade statistics.
Whilst being a sensitive and delicate issue the Conference recognised that in the past, some Customs administrations have been used as political tools to facilitate political agendas. In addition, certain aspects of Customs have been, and still are used, to further individual politicians’ objectives. This has a direct bearing on issues such as exemptions granted by Government Ministries (and Ministers) and pressures exerted on Commissioners of Customs for them to relieve certain importations of Customs charges, often for illegal, personal reasons. The net result of this unacceptable practice is loss of national revenue, promotion of the view of Customs as corrupt and a weakening of the national and regional judiciary and law enforcement systems. In order to be effective, Customs need the scope to operate professionally without political interference.
With the reduction of Customs duty as a main means of collecting national revenue there is increasing emphasis on indirect taxation regimes such as VAT and Excise duties. Modern Customs and taxation administration’s methods are becoming increasingly linked with an emergence of common skills and a “single window approach” for the trade and public. The model of a single Revenue Administration has considerable merit and should be considered in the Caribbean Region in order to improve organisational management and increase efficiencies. A critical element in the modern revenue administration is an integrated automation system, well maintained and kept up to date by properly skilled and rewarded staff.
The development of the organisation’s human resources is critical to its success in terms of recruitment, retention, reward and recognition. Technical and management training and development must be available in order to build the required knowledge, skills and attitudes at all levels of the organisation. There is an increasing demand for more complex transactions and strategic management methodologies giving rise to the need for more immediate, up to date technical training, delivered using a variety of means including the internet, as well as the need for middle, senior and strategic management qualifications in the form of certificates, Degree and Masters qualifications.
The conference concluded that rapid environmental changes such as WTO, FTAA, and the demands of other international conventions are placing increasing pressures on Customs and revenue administrations. There appears to be little assessment as to the capacity of revenue administrations to meet those demands during the international negotiations stage. An example of this is the WTO requirement for post clearance audit facilities that were agreed without assessing the impact on recruitment, salaries, training and academic accountancy qualifications for Customs personnel.
This requirement changes the profile of a more traditional Customs Officer and can put unrealistic burdens on mall Islands States if they are required to sign up to WTO and other agreements. It is already being discovered that customs face serious problems when it comes to implement the rules and requirements of WTO and FTAA.
It is essential to ensure the security of the international trade supply chain and external frontiers. This can only be achieved through a closer working relationship between customs, police and all other related agencies. In turn, the capacity requirements of all organisations must be identified and met. This includes the agreement of standard operating procedures and the signing of Memoranda of Understanding.
Customs has not always been perceived by the police, military and other related agencies in a positive light. This image needs to be improved and Customs need to assert themselves and recover that lost position. It’s been suggested that part of this poor image stems from a lack of confidence and not fulfilling the law enforcement role allocated to customs by government and legislation. There has been reluctance in some areas to adopt a law enforcement role despite this mandate given to customs through legislation. This in turn has created the perception that customs has only been about collecting revenue and not enforcing all aspects of the law. Customs needs to assert itself in border control.
For more detail please review the Customs Capacity Building Strategy prepared by the World Customs Organization with additions by the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council on behalf of the international Customs community in the Latin American and Caribbean Region.