A Letter to the Editor
It was last year sometime when Hubert Ingraham and Zhivargo Laing declared that they were committed to teaching the Freeport business community a lesson. This was in response to our (Freeport business community) not sitting back and allowing these two novices to piss away our rights (Willy nilly), as licensees of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, to concessions under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement. He (Ingraham) tried this nonsense once before-a few years ago-when he inferred in a speech, to a group of Freeport Business persons, that the customs department had the sole authority to determine and to dictate the type of motor vehicles we (Port Authority Licensees) could import, conditionally duty free, for use in our businesses.
The venue was a business luncheon held at the Lucayan golf and Country Club when he told business persons, in attendance, that all those fancy and expensive vehicles they had driven to the luncheon, that day, would be hauled in by Bahamas Customs the following morning and that they would be required to pay the customs duties before the vehicles would be released to them.
Well I don’t have to tell you, am sure, that the business operators went berserk on that Negro, so intensely that he had to recant. They mounted on his behind quicker than ugly appeared on monkey and eventually he had to back down; the damn coward. Why, you ask? Because he was proposing something that he knew to be illegal and unlike our black business persons, who would have let him get away that nonsense, the dominant white business group told him, “hell no, not this time.”
No tin god, the likes of Zhivargo Laing and or box-fish head Hubert Ingraham can tell us, legally, what kind of vehicles we are permitted to import for our business purposes. That call is for the individual business owner to make; not Bahamas Customs, not Zhivargo Laing and certainly not Hubert Ingraham; it’s none of their damn business.
If the truth were revealed, you would know that neither Ingraham nor Laing has any working knowledge of the Hawksbill Creek Agreement; consequently they don’t have a damn clue of how it works. The puppet who Laing had installed in position, in the customs department, for the sole purpose of feeding him garbage, don’t have a clue either as to how the agreement works, having been transferred from Nassau only a few years ago.
I suspect he has never bothered to become fully acquainted with the very broad rights that licensees do enjoy under the agreement. It is very obvious that the Comptroller of Customs, himself as a matter of fact, has very little knowledge (if any) of the terms and conditions of the agreement.
The problem here is plain for all to see, that they don’t read and if they do read and study this complex agreement, they have never understood it. Their decisions seem to be based on gut feelings and are almost, always outside of any law. Hence the reason for them losing every law suit brought against them to date.
Hubert couldn’t get us then so, last year sometime, he threatened to fix the Customs Management Act so that it would be crystal clear(as he said) on the kind of authority that customs does have, under the act, to deal with us Freeporters. That is what Ingraham threatened and so he and Laing embarked on this vendetta, to get us.
To make matters worse, for us to do business, they ordered that the ten-day bond facility be cancelled immediately and without any notice whatsoever. This threw the business community into turmoil as the bond facility, which we enjoyed for years, enabled business persons to take delivery of their merchandise immediately upon arrival (provided all the relevant documents to clear the merchandise are in order) as opposed to having to wait long periods, (in terms of days), for customs brokers to prepare the necessary customs entries and then for Bahamas Customs to get around to processing the paperwork.
We screamed about what they were doing, but it had no affect as this was their way, I gathered, of (as the tin gods said) teaching us a lesson. Businesses threatened to close their doors, but that didn’t faze the Ingraham Administration either; their attitude? We don’t give a damn what you do. It didn’t matter to them if we had a case to argue or not, as they were on their already stated mission to bring us in line with the rest of the Bahamas.
A couple months ago another letter was sent to all licensees concerned, that if they failed to submit their dutiable sales reports and have the customs duties (due and payable) paid by the 15th of each month, then the customs department would suspend their duty free concessions as provided for under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.
Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous, illegal and stupid? First of all the Bahamas Customs department did not grant these concessions and therefore has no authority to suspend them. How can one suspend a right when one did not grant that right, in the first place? The decision taken, to circulate such a letter, could only have come from the novice in customs who is there, primarily, to feed Zhivargo Laing the garbage and bad advice he gets fed to him.
It is of interest to note that they waited until the Assistant Comptroller of Customs, responsible for Freeport, left for his annual vacation, to make their foolish move on business operators. Mr. Lincoln Strachan, who is eminently qualified for the post he holds, is very knowledgeable in the ways of Freeport and would never have sanctioned, I submit, the circulation of that foolish, illegal letter.
Nonetheless, since the buck stops at his desk, he had to accept responsibility and take all the blows from an angry, frustrated public. The comptroller himself opined, later to the media, when questioned by Tribune’s business writer that the letter should not have gone out.
Recently again, though, (for the licensees who are obliged to submit dutiable sales reports monthly) they began squeezing Freeport’s business community further, by requiring them to submit, in addition, a monthly report for the total bonded sales they make each month. This is something that has never been required before and for a number of these companies, their computers were/ are not set up to produce such a report.
To add insult to injury these department heads, in their quest to force us to comply, began refusing to accept the money due on the monthly dutiable sales reports until, they say, such time as they are in receipt of the said reports. Here again is another illegal move on the part of customs. They refused a cheque, for more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00), from Kelly’s Lumber Yard (FPO) Ltd, but they certainly met their match, I am told, when the Principals, of Kelly’s Freeport Ltd, refused to accept what they determined was another illegal blunder by the revenue collectors, and opted, instead, to take the matter to court for a judicial review.
I predict that the customs department will lose yet another court case when the judge declares that (yes) Kelly’s rights have indeed been violated. All this to prove what? That Bahamas Customs and the ministers of finance are all powerful? That they are above the law? Well no one is above the law and no one is all powerful because no one is an island unto himself.
These House Negros really believe that when they speak the laws of the country are automatically suspended to accommodate the foolish decisions they make. Unfortunately, I believe, the Assistant Comptroller, in charge of Freeport, isn’t always briefed on these matters and when the stuff hits the fan, is when he is made aware only, by that time, the damage would have already been done. He needs to get a firmer grip and clamp down on his out-of-control executives.
I submit that they are requiring both these sales reports in an attempt to carry out Audits which they were legally prevented from performing, by the courts, in a judgment handed down by His Lordship Ganpatsingh in his ruling in a case brought by Fred Smith Q.C, on behalf of a client, against the Customs Department about five years ago. These month-end reports can facilitate back door audits which are the only reason, I submit, for the department requiring them.
Once these reports are in hand all that needs to be done, to achieve an audit, is to determine the inventory left in a client’s warehouse for which the client would be accountable. That would be done by adding up the values as totaled from all the copies of the importers’ import entries (which they maintain copies in files retained for each importer) and then subtracting the totals of the two monthly sales reports (duty & bonded) for the period they wish to inspect and an audit would be achieved. This is certainly a clever way of performing these audits without being, at the same time, in contempt of the judge’s ruling; a very clever plan indeed.
As if that wasn’t enough they have now come up with another way of making life miserable for us and to teach us a lesson, as they said they would do. They are now requiring that when applications are submitted, by Port Authority Licensees, to the customs department for the usual annual letter, which heretofore facilitated Licensees and permitted them hassle-free purchases of bonded supplies from the various vendors in the wholesale and retail business in Freeport, we would, as of January 2011, be required to secure a letter, from the National Insurance Board, confirming that all our NIB contributions are up-to-date. This letter will have to accompany applications, for the same, and in the absence of NIB clearance, no “over-the-counter sales” letters would be issued.
Clearly this is another tactic being used to frustrate Licensees and in addition to, as Ingraham and Laing said, teach us a lesson. These two tin gods actually believe that by requiring this NIB letter, as a pre-requisite, many licensees will be unable to comply due to the fact that many of them, I am quite sure, are either not up-to-date with their contributions or have never been registered with the national insurance board. The finance duo believes that this would reap some additional revenue, benefits, for the Public Treasury but not so.
While I believe all employees should be registered with the NIB and make their payments regularly, one thing has nothing to do with the other, and the customs department does not have the legal authority to suspend our concessions under the Agreement under any circumstances. If the NIB has a difficulty getting companies to register their employees and or getting them to make the required payments, then the board has the means at its disposal, in law, to pursue the law breakers through the courts. Bahamas Customs has no business getting involved in NIB’s affairs.
The Grand Bahama Port Authority, who alone issues licenses, is alone empowered to suspend benefits and concessions, under the Agreement, and I call upon them, now, to protect their Licensees from these white collar thugs. The exercise will be made more difficult, as well, because my information is that these letters, required from national insurance, will have to be sent to us from NIB’s Nassau office; how do you like that for gridlock? These guys are masters at making things difficult for small business operators and it seems to me that they have developed a huge dislike for businesses operating in Freeport.
It seems, as well, that they are struck with this long held “myth,” out of Nassau, that Businesses in Freeport, somehow, by virtue of operating under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement, have an unfair advantage in that they have been getting away with not paying customs duties for years, like Nassau folk are obliged to do. This, of course, is pure rubbish and foolish jealously. It prompts me to say to them, “then relocate your business operations to Freeport and start paying $10,000.00 license fees, to the Grand Bahama Port Authority, each year plus the thousands of dollars in service charge fees that we are obliged to pay. In addition we are saddled with a built-in three-yearly cost of living escalation clause besides. There is no free ride for any of us, guys, believe me when I tell you that.
I offer my congratulations to the principals of Kelly’s Lumber Yard (FPO) Ltd for pursuing their rights, in the courts of law. I congratulate them, as well, for not allowing themselves to be intimidated, by the likes of Ingraham, Laing and the comptroller, into accepting all the crappy decisions that customs has been making lately which, we are convinced, are in contravention (if not outright illegal) of age old traditions set from the beginning of the practical application of the Agreement, more than fifty (50) years ago. The Government and its departments, must begin to recognize that they operate under statue laws and set precedents, and must observe all when making decisions which, drastically changes the status quo, affecting the public adversely.
Forrester J Carroll J.P
Freeport, Grand Bahama
31st October 2010