Last week Premier Andrew Fahie provided some previously missing data on the amount of revenue the Customs Department collected
from licensed duty-free merchants at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park from 2016 to 2019.

However, the numbers provided by Mr. Fahie last Thursday in the House of Assembly appear to contradict some information he previously provided in response to similar questions from opposition member Julian Fraser (R-D3).

Last Thursday, he told Mr. Fraser that $284,626.45 in customs revenue was collected from the Pier Park merchants from 2016 to 2019, and provided data for each of those years, citing a figure of $29,564.29 for 2016.

However, in response to a similar question from Mr. Fraser last May, the premier said no customs duty was collected from the park in 2016, its first full year of operation.

Those figures, in turn, contradicted figures provided in 2017 by the previous government: In June 2017, then Premier Dr. Orlando Smith said licensed duty-free vendors — who are exempt from paying duty on the goods they sell to visitors but not on the goods they sell to residents — sold about $2.1 million worth of goods to residents in 2016 and paid $87,107 in customs duties.

Concerning the subsequent years, in May, Mr. Fahie blamed the 2017 hurricanes for the lack of ready data, claiming that it had to be manually cross-checked for accuracy and would require more time. 78,371.62 in customs revenue for 2017; $88,677.56 for 2018; and $88,011.98 for 2019. Mr. Fraser did not question the premier further on any of
these numbers.

Reached by phone yesterday, Acting Customs Commissioner Leslie Lettsome declined to comment.

Duty-free questions

The territory’s duty-free system was hastily implemented in mid-2015
to allow licensed vendors at the Pier Park — and only the Pier Park — to import tax-free the goods they sell to visitors.

Last Thursday, Mr. Fahie reported that 11 such vendors are currently operating in the park: La Boutique, Little Switzerland, Klass Electronics,
Diamonds International, Effy, Aroma’s, Del Sol, Cariloha, House of
Luxury, Blanc du Nil and Tortola Vision Centre. Rolex, he added, was
“approved in December 2019” and will open soon.

Customs officials have reported headaches in administering the system, particularly in accounting for goods sold to visitors versus those sold to residents.

Duty-free vendors told the Beacon in 2017 and again in 2019 that they
charge the same prices to every customer, then pay the customs fees

However, some vendors have been penalised for making untrue customs declarations.

‘You don’t believe that’

Asked by Mr. Fraser to explain the duty-free process last Thursday, Mr.
Fahie said importers receive their goods and inspections are conducted at ports of entry as needed.

“Duty-free shops will then submit to customs a report on sales,[including] what was sold to locals and what was sold to visitors,” he explained. “Entries are then generated after reports are checked by customs and approved.”

Duty and other applicable fees are than assessed and collected for the goods sold to residents, he added.

But Mr. Fraser retorted, “Even you don’t believe that.”

Mr. Fahie laughed and denied that he disbelieved his own answer.

“I didn’t say that,” he said.

The exchange ended there.