This is to provide a response on further clarifications sought from your paper on the subject matter. As such, I advise that contrary to what has been reported, the Scheme is only ever approved and used in accordance with our Ministry’s legislation and specific policies.
The Scheme is only allowed under section 117 of the Customs Act 2014 (“Act”). Section 117 states that no person is entitled to obtain release of goods from the control of Customs until the sum payable by way of duty is paid in full.
That is the general rule, however, if the Comptroller (Chief Executive Officer) considers that undue hardship would result from the payment of duty as required under the Act, the Comptroller may, subject to conditions as determined by the Comptroller to release the good from the control of Customs and accept payment of duty by instalment over specified period.
The application of section 117 is very restricted, however as the Comptroller, I am mindful of the burden or as the Act states, ‘undue hardship’ it would have created for every Samoan if Customs maintain the strict application of the relevant provision of the Act.
The Act however allows the Comptroller to release the goods from Customs control, subject to any condition that maybe imposed. This Scheme has greatly assisted individual residents of the wider public importing their vehicles who are not pay the full amount of import duty.
However, the Ministry has taken a cautious approach on how to apply the Scheme. Therefore the Ministry has a Standard Operating procedure (“SOP”) in place known as the ‘clearance and monitoring of deferral scheme’ which limits the use of the Scheme to Vehicles imported for personal use by individual importers only.
The payment procedure is that the individual importer who is facing hardship must pay upfront an amount equal to half of the customs duty owing, with the remainder to be repaid within three months. A deferral agreement is entered between individual and the Comptroller setting out how much payment he or she should pay within three months.
Before an agreement is signed between the individual importer and the Comptroller, the following conditions must be satisfied as it forms part of the agreement:
a) Individual Importer contact details etc;
b) Importer to provide two guarantors (Guarantee Agreement, salary Deduction)
c) Valid photo identification of individual importer;
d) Vehicle details; and
e) Location of individual importer residence
Should the individual importer not honour this deferral arrangement under the Scheme, the Comptroller may seize the particular vehicle under section 269 of the Act as goods with customs duty still owing on it or what we refer to as ‘uncustomed goods’. If such a vehicle is no longer in the possession of the individual importer, the Comptroller has the authority under section 102(4) of the Act to recover such a customs duty by way of law suit.
This practise has been implemented for a long time before both myself (CEO/Comptroller) and our Current Hon. Minister Tialavea Hunt had been on board in 2016. The scheme is now well managed and monitored consistently by the Customs office within the requirements of the legislation and policy without any knowledge or evidence of ‘side release’ as implicated in both editions.
For your information, this Scheme is not extended to the Business community and their imported goods. However, when sustained requests with documented evidence (such as financial statements) of undue hardship are received from any of the private sector the same provisions of the Customs Act 2014 is applied by the Comptroller on a case basis to consider such requests but time frame to settle with be much shorter than those under the Scheme arrangement.
I hope the above provides more clarity to this matter as to clear any misunderstanding from the business sector on who is entitled to such treatments as implicated. Should you have any quires on this matter please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.
Ma le fa’aaloalo lava,
Matafeo Avalisa Viali-Fautuaali’i
Chief Executive Officer/Comptroller
Ministry for Revenue