Barbados will always encounter challenges in its attempts to improve economic growth as long as the actions of certain Government departments and agencies have the effect of frustrating instead of facilitating business, an upset small businessman said today.
Bertram Jones, director of Bargain Motors Inc. which imports and sells pre-owned Japanese vehicles, underscored this point as he expressed frustration over the lengthy delay he is experiencing getting Customs to resolve an issue which is holding up the release of 47 cars at the Bridgetown Port.
“The company operates a Customs warehouse/bond. From June this year, we have had these cars lying in the Port because the warehouse was reading ‘full’, meaning we had reached maximum capacity and could no longer utilize its services,” Jones told Barbados TODAY.
The vehicle importer said he subsequently carried out a search because he was not convinced that the warehouse had reached its limit. Producing documents, he said between June 2013 and October 2014, the company had paid $2,399,635.50 in Customs duties but the Customs computer system had recorded only $1,789,409.90, leaving an unexplained shortfall of $610,225.60.
Jones said he tried to draw this discrepancy to the attention of acting Comptroller of Customs Annette Weekes.
“After many unsuccessful telephone calls, written correspondence, and a couple visits to the Warrens Complex, the Comptroller finally responded by saying that she wrote to the Revenue Commissioner, Ms Margaret Sivers, requesting assistance from their IT Department, but Ms Sivers responded to both of us by email, saying, ‘it is a matter of Customs’,” he said.
Since this email, the Bargain Motors director said he had written Weekes no less than seven times in an effort to resolve the issue but had not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgment to his correspondence. After getting the run-around for the last six months, Jones said he was left to wonder whether his was a case of “undiluted, unashamed and contemptuous victimization.”
Bargain Motors, which operates from Enterprise Main Road, Christ Church, has been importing pre-owned vehicles from Japan for 18 years. It has a staff compliment of 10 direct and indirect employees.
“We cannot clear our stock from the port because of our warehouse’s incorrect reading. We discovered discrepancies with our account and outlined the problem to the attention of the relevant stakeholders. However, it appears that this matter is not significant enough. Are we serious about developing and pushing small businesses and reducing unemployment?” asked Jones, a Ph.D. student in management at Walden University.
He added: “Forty seven units, worth close to a million dollars in duties, have been sitting in the Port for six months. The Government has not earned one cent on these cars. I thought the Government needed cash. Are these cars going to be released when they have rusted?”
Jones said he had taken his case to Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss, whom he said “really tried to help”. The businessman said he was not seeking a fight with Customs but felt this Department should be more sensitive of its trade facilitation function in this era of trade liberalization.
“This matter has dragged on for too long. I felt forced to go public because I felt my requests for resolution have been ignored. I am a customer of Customs and deserve to be treated with courtesy, fairness and respect. I want to have this matter resolved so that I can get on with my legitimate business, instead of facing the threat of going out of business as has been the fate of many used car importers over the years,” Jones added.
Attempts to reach the acting Comptroller of Customs for a comment were unsuccessful.