Jamaica Customs assures customers contactless clearance will eliminate theft
A Customs officer inspects and examines an imported barrel at a Kingston port as part of its border protection mandate.

THE Jamaica Customs Agency is assuring importers who might be anxious about pilferage from their shipments with the introduction of its contactless clearance project for non-commercial goods, that it has heightened its security measures — inclusive of body-worn cameras for its officers — to prevent this.

"We understand that importers may have concerns that we need to be there to secure the cargo. We say to them, 'We understand that culture so what we have done is work with the operators of the store at the warehouses who are handling the cargo, and we have worked with them to improve their closed-circuit television (CCTV) system,' " Project Manager Kingsley Henry told the Jamaica Observer Monday.

According to Henry,the entity has worked with warehouse operators to "improve overall security and control of the areas".

"For example, we have said to them: 'In the inspection areas, limit the number of persons who have access. Persons who have access, including customs officers and others, can't take bags into or out of the space,' " he explained.

In addition, he said Customs has mandated warehouse operators screen their employees forensically before taking them on.

"We have said to them for the first time that, 'You must conduct security vetting, background checks of your employees.' These must be done by the Jamaica Constabulary Force or some other security entity within Jamaica. We have introduced body-worn cameras for our officers who are working within the contactless sterile area, and as we roll out contactless clearance over the coming months to a mandatory process then more and more cameras will be rolled out," Henry told the Observer.

In the meantime, Henry said the initiative also addresses security concerns for Jamaica Customs.

"The work that our officers do is very sensitive, and usually when you are in an inspection area and you come across contraband or ammunition it's usually within that crowded space where you have a whole lot of importers, agents, warehouse persons within that space. And so, contactless clearance will allow us to do those kinds of inspections and have those [discoveries] dealt with outside the eyes of all the people who would be in the normal inspection space," he stated.

"It certainly will allow us to handle those situations in a far more secure and confidential way than we are able to do now. So for whatever that is worth, the confidentiality and security of those detections and keeping the information under wraps for investigative purposes, that would be one of the benefits that would arise from conducting the inspections in a secure, sterile environment," he said further.

Effective May 1, importers of Non-Commercial Less than Container Load (LCL) Cargo were given the option of using contactless clearance when clearing their cargo at all sea ports and marine, public-bonded warehouses. This allows such customers a more efficient, more hassle-free and less time-consuming avenue to clearing their cargo.

According to Henry the process, which by this September will become mandatory, eliminates several mischiefs.

"It is not uncommon, for example in peak season, for importers to come to the port in the dark and leave in the dark. Outside of the busy season it typically takes you a few hours to clear your shipment, so if you have to go to the wharf you will probably beg your employer for half a day or a full day to go and get your shipment cleared — and we are saying in 2023 there is an easier way to do that," he said.

"Contactless clearance is a process change that Customs is rolling out, and in this process change what we are doing is that we are saying to importers that we will do the inspection of cargo without the importer having to come to the port to be present for that inspection," Henry said.

"What we are doing now is that we are changing the process. And all that needs to happen is for your shipping agent to submit the documentation to Customs to get the duty assessment, and to work with you for you to pay your duties and pay whatever other charges you may have, and once you have paid the customs charges then Customs is in a position to inspect your cargo, and then your agent will inform you or you can go onto our track and trace portal on our website or you can use the Customs mobile app and put in your declaration number and that will allow you to track," he added.

As to why the non-commercial importers are now the focus Henry said, "The majority of our resources at Customs is spent on routine, physical inspection of non-commercial items like your barrels, your boxes; that is where we spend most of our human resources. And when you look at it in terms of the data we see, we spend a whole lot of those resources here; but when you look at the results we see for spending all of that effort, it is not balancing."

In noting that the waiting time for non-commercial importers is much longer than the commercial importers he said Jamaica Customs will be observing how this process works for the non-commercial customers before tackling it for commercial importers.

In the meantime, as far as the delay in making contactless clearance mandatory is concerned Henry said the agency is "working to expand the payment options, so we want to make it easy for the importers to pay from anywhere they are in the world".

"So right now an agency can submit a payment declaration from anywhere in the world, and what we are working towards is to make the payment as seamless as possible. Once we have resolved those issues we will be in a position to make it mandatory," he told the Observer.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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