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Simple, Faster, Cheaper & Business-Friendly [A vision for Jamaica Customs]

September 9, 2013

Sergio Riveros

Now that I have your attention, let us ‘talk’ a little bit about some of the specific principles required to make the customs agency in Jamaica as efficient, effective, and accountable as all stakeholders would like it to be.

In discussions with the management and users of Jamaica Customs over the past week, it became clear that they all have a common vision. Everybody with whom I spoke wanted to work with the international partners, such as the World Bank to craft and execute a plan of action that will foster the business-friendly environment that is desperately so needed boost  Jamaica’s thrust to boost economic growth and global competitiveness.

We all agreed as well that to get that point Jamaica Customs will need to go through a modernization process underpinned by international best practices. The time is now. Jamaica must seize the moment as the lead organization just entered the “transition” phase of becoming a full Executive Agency, a process expected to last about two years.

The literature of best practice recognizes that modern Customs operations must be concerned with much more than simply the traditional thrust of revenue collection. Other critical functions include advisory services, policy implementation, trade facilitation and border security. Of course in the current global dispensation, the expectations of the clients of Customs operations continue to rise. We no longer just request, but we expect that all these functions will be executed in a way that is simpler, faster, and cheaper.

In the case of Jamaica when the modernization process reaches a mature state, Customs will be in a position to translate this to significant contributions to the economic growth of the country. For example, as policy advisor the modernization process will enable the Customs to provide up to date information on trade for access and use by policy developers and decision makers. 

In its policy implementation role, the modernization process will allow the Customs to support the smooth and efficient articulation of trade agreements. A modernized Customs as trade facilitator will enable the profitable operations of the local trading community.

Finally as security provider the modernization process will allow the Customs to coordinate effectively with other government agencies to better secure the country’s physical and economic interests. A modern customs will support country priorities in an effective manner such as the heavily touted logistic hub where customs must be present yet unobtrusive. It would be counter intuitive to interfere with trade flows of trade, but rather to support its optimization.

" Ultimately the Jamaica Customs modernization efforts should yield a better business climate which should boost economic growth by facilitating sustainable job creation. "

Sergio Riveros

Customs Reform and Modernization Expert

In this sense a modernization process is at the same time a process of building up and consolidating partnerships with main stakeholders. Those partnerships should be sought from the very beginning of the modernization process in order to build up a national consensus about the role of customs in the economic development of the country.

A critical aspect of the modernization process will be the implementation of an integrated Customs Information System (CIS) to support key functions. An integrated CIS will allow for the more efficient electronic processing of steps that are currently executed manually. It is a no-brainer that technology today if used effectively can transform the entire modus operandi of the cumbersome a paper based environment, converting it into a paperless one. This will also pave the way for additional trade facilitation measures such as a Single Window for trade – and that is where the world is heading.

In my experience these are the critical factors for success:

i) Simplify the legislation

ii) Craft a clear vision for the future of customs

iii) Find consensus on an operable modernization plan

iv) Identify a dedicated modernization champion

v) Convene a change-driven modernization execution team

vi) Identify all of the requisite internal skills

vii) Identify and secure technical assistance to supplement the efforts

viii) Secure financial resources to drive each stage of implementation

Jamaica Customs does in fact recognize this and the leadership has been working on this list to deliver the new reality. In fact, we tabled and discussed all of these aspects during the ‘Conversation Series on Customs Modernization’ that was held in the HQ Customs facilities last week (September 3-5) where I had the pleasure of being the main speaker.

The conversation series was initiated by Jamaica Customs under the Supporting Economic Management in the Caribbean (SEMCAR) programme, implemented by the World Bank and sponsored by the Government of Canada. The objective of the conversations was to discuss critical aspects of Customs modernization and the likely benefits that would accrue to the country. Topics covered during the informal exchanges were legislative reform, standard operating procedures, risk management systems, human resources management, and general aspects of customs modernization.

Ultimately the Jamaica Customs modernization efforts should yield a better business climate which should boost economic growth by facilitating sustainable job creation.

Sergio Riveros is Customs Reform and Modernization expert with more than 30 years of experience, providing technical assistance to15 countries, advising customs authorities on modernization of processes and systems, including: legislation review, data administration, reengineering and automation of key clearance processes, warehousing and transit, risk management and compliance assurance strategies, review of organization structure and training and development strategies. He offers technical support to the Government of Jamaica as a World Bank Consultant under SEMCAR.

The strategic objective of SEMCAR is to improve economic management, regional integration and competitiveness in 12 Caribbean countries. Within this strategic context, the Program will contribute to more efficient, effective, accountable, and regionally integrated Tax, Customs and PFM institutions, policies, processes and ICT systems.


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