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An undercover operation is needed at our wharves, Customs

An undercover operation is needed at our wharves, Customs

Dear Editor,

On these lazy and sporadic damp November days, I sometimes get a glimpse of a TV show called ‘Undercover Boss’. It is where the leadership, of companies or Governments, go undercover in disguise and function as an employee unknown to other employees, to see how things really work. It is revealing and sometimes embarrassing what is found.
In this holiday season with the quantity of barrels and boxes flooding into Guyana over the next several weeks, I would encourage Dr. Ashni Singh, Godfrey Statia and Bharat Jagdeo to go undercover for a day and look at our Customs importation and export processes.

We do not need GRA Managers and Commissioners doing this – it is their convoluted processes. We need our leadership to see how ill-prepared we are; how archaic our processes are; and the total inefficiency of our Custom operations at the wharfs/bonds. Please walk with a few extra dollars in case you are asked for a raise, by the blue or white shirts.
“Those who fight corruption should be clean themselves” – Vladimir Putin.
Guyanese, we have created one of the largest inefficient bureaucracies (GRA) in this nation with over 1300-plus employees (more than half the size of the GDF) nationwide for tax collection and enforcement, Customs enforcement and licensing.
I must confess Mr. Statia was helpful and returned my call within hours on an issue several months ago. One of his Commissioners, in the presence of her deputy, reminded me only Jesus Christ can remove her from her role.

Time to shake this up, Mr. Vice President.
I am starting to suspect also the ASYCUDA system is not as reliable as we are led to believe – it was down two of the four times I was at Customs, for at least an hour.
Many of our politicians are insulated from the chaos at Customs and GRA licensing counters since their drivers or messengers run the errands for them. I see folks from Berbice and Linden having to spend hours to collect a package, waiting or begging for Customs inspection.
Clearly, if you give a raise, you get to the front of the line. I refuse to give a raise, I only tip for good service. My Customs officer claimed to have lost my document for one hour.
Why GRA is involved in licensing business and automobile befuddles me – privatize it and collect the fees/taxes.

GRA’s sole role should be the issuance of TIN, collect taxes/fees and the enforcement of our tax laws. It is time to decentralize Customs, to eliminate collusion and improve efficiency.
We have difficulties in managing imports and likewise exports – 11.5 tonnes of cocaine is a glaring example.
There is a lack of accountability at the departmental level.
Many employees go to lunch at the same time. So you wait. They close early each day to balance the cash received. Utter nonsense. Drive electronic payments to eliminate fraud and improve efficiency. GRA works for us, we do not work for them. Oh, I forgot that is what they think.

Automation is lacking, manual for most public services – piles and piles of paper. Lack of trust when you must interact with five employees to get a transaction completed, going from window to window. Setting up a business is also an arduous hurdle for Guyanese. Seven days to register a business name; two more for a business TIN.
Putting GRA to oversee our oil audit costs and production is like asking the chicken to watch the camoodi, a dumb idea – cat will eat our dinner.
Buying a piece of property, the legal way will be an all day journey around Georgetown and paying fees. Guyanese, we are living in a world that has passed us by… we are not prepared to compete globally. Remember our biggest trading partner is the US. As said before, if you are running a race, compare yourself to the fastest person if you intend to win, not the next best thing.
We had 54 years already folks.

A UG professor with 10 students can do a quick time and motion study of our Customs processes and make recommendation for improvements as part of their research.
Likewise, our Government needs to continue significant investment in automation. If we do not know how, ask a company like Nippon Express/Amazon/DHL/FEDEX for help.
One of their large fulfillment centers handles more packages/containers in a day than we do in Guyana for one year. Let us get modern Guyana, else we cannot really compete. Yes, we Guyanese are highly resistant to change.

We moan about our British colonial past, but we have copied many of the processes left us 50 years ago and just made them worse.
Ashni, if you want a modern economy start with GRA/Customs and the Finance Ministry – help us Guyanese find it easy to do business with our Government, not just foreigners.
We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle- Winston Churchill.

Everton Morris

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