On Tuesday in the House of Assembly, government provided a numerical overview of the territory’s duty-free system, which was hastily implemented in mid-2015 to allow licensed vendors at Tortola Pier Park to import tax-free the goods they sell to visitors.
In response to questions from opposition member Julian Fraser (R-D3), Premier Dr. Orlando Smith said that licensed duty-free vendors at the pier park saved some $1.75 million in duty on the roughly $11.6 million of goods they imported in 2016, the first full year of the system’s existence.
Additionally, Dr. Smith said licensed duty-free vendors — who are only exempt from paying duty on the goods they sell to visitors — sold about $2.1 million of goods to residents, paying $87,107 in taxes in the process.
What wasn’t discussed in HOA, however, was some of the headaches the Customs Department has experienced in administering the system.
Customs Commissioner Wade Smith told the Beacon this week that a lack of headquarters at the pier park has presented his department with a “logistical nightmare” in trying to make sure the duty-free system runs smoothly.
“We don’t want to hold someone’s shipment because they might be expecting a 5,000-passenger ship coming in the next day, so when we get a call we have to send officers to the pier park. Sometimes we go early in the morning; sometimes we go in the evening or even on weekends,” Mr. Smith said. “If we had a facility in the park, we’d be able to staff it and be in a better position to serve the clients better.”
Mr. Smith said the logistical challenges facing Customs officers “could” mean that duty-free imports aren’t being totally accounted for — a concern expressed by vendors outside the pier park in mid-2015, when they wondered how government would prevent stores from selling their goods to residents without tax or selling them outside the pier park.
“It could [affect Customs’ ability to track duty-free goods], but we try to be vigilant and we try to be on top of things,” Mr. Smith said in response to a question about the issue. “I’m not saying we’re 100 percent effective, because there’s always room for improvement, but we try our best to make sure everything is accounted for. And if there’s any attempt [to breach the law], we place penalties when penalties are due.”
Some of the duty-free vendors — Mr. Smith estimated that there are about 12 such stores at the pier park — already have been penalised for making untrue Customs declarations, he said.
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