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Tuesday, September 26 2017 @ 02:06 PM AST

T&T Customs officers make 40% of salary in overtime

The events of September 11, 2001 in the United States of America continue to change the world, as Trinidad & Tobago's Trade Minister Vasant Bharath credited the macabre day in US history for being the genesis of this country's Customs Amendment Bill.

While speaking during the 23rd sitting of the 3rd session of the 10th Parliament in the Senate on June 4, Bharath said: "Mr President what is the genesis of this legislation? The genesis, really, emanates from what took place in the United States in September 11, 2001, with the terrorist attacks, when the Government at the time in the United States had to enact several pieces of anti-terrorism legislation, importantly, the United States Trade Act of 2002 and, more specifically, section 343 (a), which was passed in 2002 and mandated US customs and border protection agencies to establish rules for both the import and the export of goods as far as the provision of electronic data was concerned.

"On December 5, 2003, the customs border protection agency published a notice called the 'Final Rule' in the Federal Register, announcing changes in the customs regulations which required advance electronic presentation of information for all modes of transportation, whether it is rail, car, ship, aircraft and so on, both for inbound and outbound."

Since then, he told the Senate, many countries, as well as multilateral organizations, have implemented this rule. The World Customs Organization has done it; the World Trade Organization has done it. "The World Trade Organization states very clearly: 'Each member shall adopt or maintain procedures for the submission of manifest and other required information in order to begin processing and examination prior to arrival of goods with a view to expediting the clearance and release of goods.'"

The European Union, in January 2011, enacted Regulation 278, 1875 to cover this, Bharath said. Canada did the same in 2009. Mexico and Korea followed suit in 2011 and 2012, respectively. "Within the Caricom region, many of our fellow Caricom countries have enacted similar legislation that is before us here this afternoon: St.Lucia in 2005; St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis in 2007 and Dominica in 2010."

Bharath then listed a few of "the benefits of this advanced information provided to customs." He said the first is "improved border security, of course. It eliminates paper documentation and as a direct result, reduces a significant amount of time which is labour intensive; allows for realtime follow up of import and export transactions. It also provides the generation of trade intelligence almost on an immediate basis, and we know the issues that have been discussed before with regard to the Central Statistical Office (CSO). It enhances risk management and fraud control. It speeds up tax collection procedures, and, very importantly, as Senator (Helen) Drayton rightly said, what it does, (is that) it allows the speedy release of goods upon arrival because those containers, or those boxes, that have already been reviewed, as far as low risks are concerned, are able to be
cleared almost immediately."

Customs has a very diverse role, the T&T trade minister said. He said: "In fact, it has several roles: trade facilitation; community protection and revenue collection, while being a necessary presence as far as the global trading system is concerned. However, while businesses must comply with fair customs procedures, inefficiencies cannot and must not be allowed to continue. Old practices can no longer work. We work and we live in a completely different world than we did 10 years ago.

"Customs must resolve the contradictions between strict control and efficient operations, and must not only enforce the laws but also facilitate trade and serve to enhance the competitiveness of local industries as well as enterprises. This is why the operations of the customs has come under such severe and significant criticism at times over the years. The woes and the cries of the private sector have been very loud over the years with regard to the operations of customs; but we know of those woes simply because these private sector members have organizations through whom they are represented, on either the national or regional stage. So, therefore, their woes can sometimes be addressed, but at least they are heard.

"They have spoken at length, ad nauseam, on the processing delays encountered at customs, sometimes the shoddy treatment handed out and meted out by customs officers to the private sector, and the additional costs involved in those delays, invariably and inevitably being passed on to the consumer."

The minister said: "Let me tell you what the actual cost is for overtime in Trinidad and Tobago for customs. From 2002 through to 2013, expenditure on overtime salaries for Customs and Excise division was $397,799,095. But I will also tell you something to put it in perspective. The total expenditure on regular salaries for customs officers for the same time was $1,062,346,000.

"Essentially, the percentage of overtime to basic salaries is 40 per cent over the last 10 years. Customs officers in this country - Customs and Excise - have been paid 40 per cent of their take-home salary as overtime payments. So, yes, we may save $5 million, but it really is a drop in the bucket in terms of creating the efficiencies that are required, not just in Customs and Excise, but throughout the public service."

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