Sando Chamber: Port delays one week before Christmas unacceptable

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Kiran Singh –

AS clearing of goods continue to be delayed, the Greater San Fernando Chamber is calling for improved efficiency at the ports of entry and Customs and Excise Department.

President Kiran Singh said, one week before Christmas, reports of a customs being understaffed, resulting in delays in the clearing of goods is totally unacceptable.

Complaining of unfair trading practices, Singh said, “Goods are backed up at the ports, even individual importers, small traders and some in the SME (small and medium enterprise sector) who have barrels and pallets, not even containers, can get them cleared.

“I cannot understand why year after year, when Christmas is a fixed date on the calendar we still continue to have the perennial problem at to get goods cleared once it arrives on shore.

“Why are we still operating like that?

“We live in the digital age where paper processing could be at a faster pace. And they always have reasons or excuses.”

Singh said it was a retrograde step in this digital era that payments could not be made online when goods were cleared, noting the danger in walking with large amounts of cash.

“You have to get certified cheques to pay for goods once it is over $5,000.”

He said it was extremely challenging for the retail sector which imported the majority of its goods for retail. Additional rents and demurrage costs (payable to a ship’s owner on failure to offload the ship within the agreed time) are passed on to the end users in this case, he said, pointing to the need to find new mechanisms for the operations at Customs and the port.

He suggested extended working hours to facilitate the increased imports.

“We cannot continue to operate within the regular office framework of 8 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday. We need to find ways to extend the working hours on weekends and public holidays, to take full advantage of the full service 24/7.”

President of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) Michael Annisette said extended hours on Saturdays were in effect at the barrel shed, but was insufficient to make a dent in the backlog, owing to the staff shortage and failure to modernise the system.

Singh said the increase working hours would assist in increasing the ease of doing business in TT, which would lead to greater efficiency, reduced shipping and transport costs and overtime for labourers once the goods were delayed at the ports. All to the benefit of the consumers.