Customs gets ‘D’ for ‘disappointing’

| 03/04/2018

(Auntie): As a general rule, I try to stay positive and look on the brighter side of things, especially when I encounter so many people, both in the public and private sector, who genuinely seem determined to help, some of whom I have praised with an Ask Auntie Award. However, there are occasions when no amount of pleading and reminding results in any forthcoming answers to readers’ questions.

It would be merely annoying to encounter the seemingly determined lack of response to what appear to be straightforward questions if readers weren’t waiting for an answer. I have said before that I will not give up on chasing down the information sought but sometimes even my patience is tested beyond my limits.

With that in mind, I have decided it was time to start calling out those departments and/or companies whose staff have clearly embraced the strategy of “If I don’t want to answer and ignore the question, it will go away.” A quick look through my sent emails will show that I don’t go away, even if I never even get a confirmation that my email was received, despite numerous requests for that basic courtesy.

Now I understand that people are busy, but the questions sent to me by readers are legitimate concerns and this is often the only way that they can get an answer. So when a question goes unanswered, sometimes for as much as a year or more (and that is not an exaggeration, I’m afraid), then it is time to say something publicly.

Therefore I am calling out the Cayman Islands Customs Department, giving them a grade of D for ‘disappointing’.

While I have received some answers from staff at customs since I began this column in 2016, the lack of responses dating back to last year has been glaringly obvious. To illustrate my point, I have summarised the questions that remain outstanding (despite numerous entreaties for information) followed by the date of the original request for help in brackets, in order of oldest to newest:

  • Why is it so hard to pay at customs after you clear the paperwork? (24 November 2016)
  • My partner and I have booked a romantic vacation to the Cayman Islands this summer but I have been told that it is illegal to bring sex toys with us. Is this true? (13 February 2017)
  • I have heard that local car importers who source and ship secondhand vehicles from Japan and elsewhere are claiming that individual importers are undermining their business by going to online trade sites, and they have persuaded Government to restrict such imports so that only the ‘legitimate’ importers can bring cars into Cayman. Is this rumour true? (17 February 2017)
  • Why does airport customs use an exchange rate of USD/KYD of 0.84 when calculating the duty to pay on goods imported in US dollars when the established rate is 0.82? (15 August 2017)
  • I have noted on my last two arrivals in Cayman (I am a resident) that customs has switched to all-black uniforms which to my mind are very SWAT team-like and not very welcoming. What is the reason for the change? (9 October 2017)
  • Why does it take more than three days to clear a container’s paperwork, when several years ago it could be done in a few hours? I run a business that is a registered importer and use local agents who upload the details directly to customs. These delays cost my business money as I must pay fees to the shipping company for keeping the container so long. I hope this question helps get this issue addressed and customs can get the support and leadership it clearly needs. (9 March 2018)

Considering the waiting time for most of the above questions, the 24 days that have passed without any response at all for the most recent query doesn’t seem that bad, but it was the proverbial straw that broke my camel’s back.

In light of Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who is the head of the civil service, engaging in a very noteworthy and public push for an improved government work force, which includes a focus on customer service, the “earning” of a D grade by customs seems particularly egregious. I can only hope that things get better.

CNS Local Life


Category: Ask Auntie

Comments (19)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Also, why do I pay a package tax on every suitcase when I declare duty in the airport? What if everything I buy is in one suitcase and another has just my clothes?
    Also, why can’t I just pay airport duties online or can’t they make the process quicker? There are currently only two cashier spots, the process seems to take about 10 minutes per person, this discourages people from declaring. It should not be this hard in 2018.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are a lot of things that “shouldn’t be this hard” in Cayman.

    • Anon says:

      I have always wondered why it takes so long to calculate the duties owed upon returning home.

      Posting this with hopes that someone who works at the duties window will see: a simple Excel spreadsheet with formulas would expedite the process and calculate total amount owed in both currencies.

      Enter the variables:
      1. Total amount spent
      2. Number of passengers
      3. Number of pieces of checked luggage

      Obviously, I have simplified setting up the spreadsheet but this would reduce wait time significantly, especially when your flight has arrived after midnight and everybody just wants to go home…

    • Anonymous says:

      Huh? Package tax on every piece of luggage?? Second your argument about new things being in one piece ..

  2. Anonymous says:

    HM Customs doesn’t deserve a D-, it deserves what it has truly earned; a F- (F is for ‘fouled-up’) – and i’m not blaming the ordinary Customs Officers who do their best – this is the result of really BAD decision making and planning on the part of senior management! What we need is a C(ustomer) oriented, not C(ustoms) oriented, management team! Ask yourselves, who pays who’s salreys?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I sent an email to the Taxi email that was posted in one of the CNS articles asking for a price list of the zones. That was several months ago.
    Also, when calling government offices, I never leave a voicemail as that would be a waste of time. They NEVER return calls. NONE of them.

    • Anonymous says:

      So problem solved. You don’t leave a message, they don’t have to respond. Everyone’s happy. (You can complain about their lack of response and they don’t have to deal with an issue that clearly wasn’t important enough to you to even leave a message about so they can spend their time on someone else’s more pressing problem.)

      • Anonymous says:

        You COMPLETELY missed the point dingdong.
        Read again carefully. But thanks for your wonderful insight!
        I don’t leave voicemails because they do NOT respond, so I just keep calling back until I get an answer. Works every time and I don’t sit with the delusion that they will return my voice message.

        • Anonymous says:

          Try calling everyone at the company registry repeatedly. I reckon I get an answer about 1% of the time. As you say no point with voicemail or email you’ll never get an answer.

        • Anonymous says:

          Please do not paint all civil servants with a generic brush. I can assure you I am one who returns calls, ackknowledge emails, look for solutions even if its “not my job/area” (sometimes even earning the wrath of managers for going beyond). I point people in the right direction do they can resolve their questions. So there are many of us who do this. Sadly we all get tainted and understandably so as I have called my own department with no answer. Please remember to appreciate those of us who take our job as servants of the people seriously.

          • Anonymous says:

            I guess you do know what a unicorn is…
            Just because you are one out of hundreds does not prevent you form being painted with the same brush. Those not doing their job outnumber those that do. Maybe you should do something to train others. Surely this is not something new to you to hear.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I can answer the ‘0.84’ question…because that’s the correct exchange rate when determining how much KYD it costs to buy 1 USD. Customs is trying to figure out how much USD you spent vs your KYD allowance, 350 KYD would buy USD 416.67 to spend at 0.84. The questioner just has their logic backwards. You need to work out KYD to USD (0.84) and not USD to KYD (0.82).

    • Anonymous says:

      The midpoint is 83.33333 and that is what government should be using not a profiteering bank rate.

      • Anonymous says:

        You cannot buy a UD$ with .833 cents at the bank

        • Anonymous says:

          well if you buy enough money you can get close, when i bought a house here i paid about $1M from savings the rest on a morgage and spoke to their money trading team, they gave me a better rate i bought usd for .835 a 7k saving.

      • Anonymous says:

        They are determining how much you, as an individual, would have to pay in KYD to obtain USD. It would make things easier for everyone if the customs limit was expressed in USD, as 90% of imports are USD based (the 90% is a guess). The question was ‘airport’, which is personal imports, and I doubt anyone would be paying substantively different amounts of duty based on personal imported amounts, irrespective of what rate was used, maybe $1.35 per $1,000, which is going to be a lot less than the parking charge!

    • Anonymous says:

      Your arithmetic is wrong. KYD to USD is the reciprocal of USD to KYD. At 0.84 a KYD would buy US$1.19. (1.0/.84=1.19). At 0.82 it would buy US$1.22. Customs presumably uses the local bank buy/sell rates.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As a recent poster on Aunties column recently commented on another topic, its known as an ‘Institutionalised stone-walling’ . We don’t like your questions, so we will ignore you until you go away. In doing so, the department that wears a uniform has projected their authority over you, proving their superiority and doing so without having to even make eye contact.

  6. D says:

    Thanks for your continued diligence and attempts to get these questions answered. Please don’t give up