Jan 172015

IMPROVING process efficiency is Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla’s top priority for 2015.

Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla identified five priorities for the country’s second largest revenue-generating agency for 2015 even as he let on last year’s biggest disappointments.

In a press conference late last month, Sevilla also reviewed the BOC’s performance in 2014, noting in particular that the agency made “major headway” in reducing smuggling in the country.

He said the BOC was able to stop rice smuggling two months ago, but that “unfortunately” the practice has resumed, although not in the usual ways or places. He noted the “record amounts” of seized smuggled rice, rice auctions as well as cases filed against some customs officials involved in seizing smuggled rice.

From January to November, BOC collected P739.33 million representing proceeds from auctions of seized shipments of mostly smuggled rice.
Sevilla said the agency has likewise reduced significant amounts of smuggling in fuel, backed by increasing volumes of imports in crude oil, diesel and gasoline by 17%, 25%, and 10%, respectively, compared with the volume in 2013.

“These are abnormally high rates of growth,” Sevilla noted, adding “there are amounts of fuel that were being smuggled in the past which are now coming in through legal channels.”

Another indicator of reduced smuggling, Sevilla said, is that the undervaluation of resins, a “hot item” until recently, has stopped. “On the technical smuggling side, I think we have successfully ended the undervaluation of resins,” he pointed out.

To prove this, he said the volume of imported resins increased 23% this year, while collections from resin imports surged 78%.

Biggest letdowns

On another note, Sevilla listed his “three biggest disappointments” in 2014.

One was that the hiring of new personnel was not as fast as he had wanted. Sevilla said this was because they were careful about hiring and taking the right approach rather than opting to lower standards “to rush things.”

In July this year, BOC started the first phase of hiring recruits for over 1,000 vacant positions to “provide a faster and better standard of service” to stakeholders.

Another disappointment, Sevilla said, was the delay in resolving administrative cases filed against erring customs officials who “we believe have made mistakes and should be terminated.” In July, BOC filed 80 formal complaints, of which more than 40 were dismissed while close to 25 to 30 cases have yet to be resolved.

The last disappointment, Sevilla said, was that BOC was “not able to do much in terms of improving the processing efficiency of import transactions.”

He admitted that public dealings with the BOC were harder in 2014 than in previous years because of the new policy on accreditation that was issued early this year.

BOC’s mother agency, the Department of Finance, in February changed the accreditation process for importers and customs brokers into a two-tiered process.

5 top goals for next year

Moving forward, Sevilla named five priorities for BOC in 2015.

First on the list is improving the efficiency of processes, including finishing the processing of 90% of imports within four hours, before the end of next year. To achieve this, Sevilla said BOC “will redesign our procedures to hit that target.”

A big part of that improvement will result from the new P650-million electronic processing system called Integrated Enhanced Customs Processing System and National Single Window Phase II, a project currently up for bidding by the Department of Budget and Management.

Sevilla said the project will turn BOC into an almost “paperless processing system.”

But even before the new system is up, Sevilla noted the agency has begun reviewing existing processes and procedures to reduce manual processing.
The second priority concerns trade facilitation. BOC will work on “faster turnaround of processing of cargoes,” especially those issued with alert orders. Sevilla said they target implementing a same-day or next-day examination, from the current practice of one week to one month for examination of a shipment with an alert order.

The Customs chief noted that “in general, I think the alert order function has been used very well” and has helped reduce smuggling and improve collections.

Moreover, BOC will improve its system for monitoring valuation as well as resolving disputes in valuation.

On improving efficiency, which Sevilla said is the third top priority, the agency “will prepare for a real roll-out of the National Single Window,” currently utilized by only six out of the 38 government agencies that are supposed to be plugged into it.

The fourth goal is to further curb smuggling. Sevilla said they will also focus on smaller ports such as Zamboanga and the Mindanao Container Terminal in Misamis Oriental, where the agency is not as “aggressive as we need to be.”

Recently, BOC visited MCT and Zamboanga for a stakeholders’ meeting.

For the fifth and last priority, Sevilla said that by early February 2015, BOC intends to make the processing of Philippine Economic Zone Authority imports totally electronic. (Portcalls)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 17, 2015.

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