I recently set up a small business that involves buying and selling, meaning that I am buying from overseas to sell to the local market. Setting up a business in such trying times could be very risky and frustrating. However, having set up shop, I decided to make my first order/importation of commercial goods.
I thought after setting up business and working out the necessary logistics, such as sourcing products, pricing, and securing potential customers among other things, were the most difficult tasks. Little did I know, the worst was yet to come, and by that, I mean interfacing with the Customs Department.
Never in my wildest dreams did I conceive that it would have taken me almost a week to a clear a consignment of commercial goods with an estimated invoice value of US$5000. First, I had to get my invoice accepted by the valuation section. That took me two to three days as the supervisor could not be found for almost the entire first day to accept my invoice. Then my invoice price was compared to prices on the Internet and according to the officer, I had to show proof of payment. So apparently, if my prices were the same as the Internet no proof of payment will be required and thirdly, the value was increased as I could not provide proof given the fact that I was allowed 30 days in which to pay which meant my transaction was not completed. Telephone numbers were provided to call the supplier, but sadly the department did not possess a magic jack. With all the back and forth it was the easiest thing just to accept the increase as my customers were in need of the merchandise.
Now, it is not my fault that the supervisor could not be found and why such a small invoice value has to go to a supervisor. How on God’s earth you are telling me that my invoice price is lower than Internet prices when the Internet and I are trying to sell the same items, only difference is what you see online has other cost built into the price, whereas my shipment has not been priced as yet. Also, I am able to negotiate prices and payment terms directly with my supplier, a fact that the Customs Department does not seem to consider.
In the year 2013, a business should not have to wait until goods arrive at the Customs to determine whether or not it is feasible to make a profit. It is not right to have priced your goods before hand and when they arrive at the Customs they are increased because they are not in sync with the Internet. The Customs Department needs to come out of the dark days and embrace the light of the global village in which we exist. Your customer service is very poor, your officers seem to lack training, and worst of all, they seem not to have a clue as to how business is conducted in these modern times. Your system could only drive investors to other shores.
Having experienced what I did, it was not surprising to hear from a number of businessmen that they have in fact imported far less in the past few years, which is not only due to the recession, but also mostly to the Customs Department. The Customs Department needs to encourage trade and not retard it. The inefficiency of the Customs can only further help to worsen the state of the economy. I do hope that the arm of government with responsibility for the Customs Department does something soon before they drive what left of small business out of business.
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