The Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Singapore Customs (SC) held a public consultation exercise from 2 to 23 September 2011 to obtain feedback on the draft Customs (Amendment) Bill 2011. The Bill covers the following changes:
(a) Changes to enhance customs enforcement:
(i) Enhanced penalties for contraband tobacco offenders to increase deterrence;
(ii) Extension of liability to the person who furnishes incorrect information to another person for making customs declarations;
(b) Changes to facilitate the sharing of information among domestic public agencies:
(i) Allowing disclosure of information collected under the Customs Act to domestic public agencies for the investigation and prosecution of offences under domestic laws and to safeguard national security, public health and safety;
(c) Changes arising from ongoing reviews to improve administration of the Act, or to clarify existing legislation:
(i) Introduction of a summons system for minor customs offences;
(ii) Allowing the appointment of agents for the recovery of duties to reduce administrative costs and aid timely recovery;
(iii) Allowing retention of trade documents in image systems instead of retaining paper documents; and
(iv) Miscellaneous changes to give greater legal clarity to the Customs Act, and to align its provisions with current operations.
Public Participation in the Consultation Exercise
2. A total of 21 sets of written comments were received from the public, comprising six suggestions, 13 requests for clarification, and two expressions of support. All comments were considered carefully. There is no change to the Customs (Amendment) Bill arising from these comments, as they were either queries for clarification, or suggestions inconsistent with policy and operational objectives. During the public consultation period, SC also met up with key trade associations to get their feedback on the proposed amendments, and the feedback received was generally in favour of the proposed amendments.
3. The key comments received and MOF’s responses are as follows:
Enhance penalties for tobacco related customs-offences
(a) Comment: To impose corporal punishment and confiscate property of contraband tobacco smuggler in addition to the proposed enhanced penalties.
MOF/SC’s response: Not accepted for implementation. The enhanced penalties under the proposed amendment are expected to be appropriate to deter tobacco smuggling offences at this time. Penalties with corporal punishment are reserved for very serious offences, such as drug trafficking. Confiscation of benefits derived from criminal conduct involving serious offences, including six such offences under Customs Act, is already provided for under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.
Allow disclosure of information collected under the Customs Act to domestic public agencies for the investigation and prosecution of offences under domestic laws and to safeguard national security, public health and safety
(b) Comment: What are the comprehensive safeguards in place to protect traders’ information? There should be clarity on the domestic agencies receiving information from SC and the information to be disclosed.
MOF/SC’s response: Domestic public agencies requesting for customs information would be required to seek approval from the Minister for Finance. Each request will be considered carefully, and the sharing of information will only be done when there is strong justification for doing so, for example the protection of public health interests. In addition, any information disclosed to the domestic public agencies will be governed by the Official Secrets Act.
(c) Comment: Suggest notifying the trader involved before any information disclosure (i.e. to inform trader of the type of information disclosed and the agency receiving the information).
MOF/SC’s response: Not accepted for implementation. As one of the purposes for disclosure of information to domestic public agencies is for investigation and prosecution, notifying the traders concerned could prejudice the investigation process. Similarly, when the information disclosed concerns public safety, health and security, it may also be inappropriate to notify the traders concerned.
(d) Comment: Suggest the amendment to allow for the disclosure of information to any party with vested interests, for purposes related to the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences in Singapore or other countries.
MOF/SC’s response: Not accepted for implementation. The policy intention is to limit the disclosure of information to domestic public agencies for specific purposes, and there is no intention to provide for disclosure to other parties. There are already avenues for exchange of information with foreign authorities for criminal enforcement under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.
Introduce a summons system for minor customs offences
(e) Comment: There should be a specific list of the minor offences for clarity on the applicability of the summons system.
MOF/SC’s response: The offence(s) for which the summons system is applicable will be prescribed under the subsidiary legislation of the Customs Act.
Allow appointment of agents for the recovery of duties to reduce administrative costs and aid timely recovery
(f) Comment: The proposed section 98B(4)(f) provides for appeal to be made to the High Court. It would be more realistic for an appeal to be made to the next level above the DG instead e.g. to the Minister for Finance, in view of a litigation process which is expensive and laborious.
MOF/SC’s response: Not accepted for implementation. The intention of section 98B(4)(f) is to provide the appellant with the right of appeal to the High Court. This is because the extent of a person’s share in monies held jointly with other persons is a legal issue, and it is more appropriate for the High Court to deal with the appeal rather than the Minister.
Miscellaneous Amendments to the Act
Implement excise duty on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
(g) Comment: The current CNG market is small, and CNG conversions seem to be declining. CNG is a slightly cleaner alternative to petrol/diesel and must be supported since the pervasiveness of petrol and diesel is much higher, and this support must at least continue until electric vehicles become mainstream. The 3/4 tank rule should not apply to CNG.
MOF/SC’s response: Not accepted for implementation. The 3/4 tank rule applies to all dutiable fuels, and should therefore apply to CNG when it becomes dutiable from 1 Jan 2012. The introduction of the duty, which was announced in Jan 2009, will ensure that continued adoption of CNG vehicles is sustainable in the long term. We recognise the favourable impact that CNG vehicles have on the environment relative to vehicles of other fuel types. This is why the unit CNG duty has been set at $0.20 per kg, significantly lower than the $0.41 per litre duty that is currently levied on petrol.
4. The other comments received, and MOF/SC’s responses and clarifications can be found here.
5. MOF and SC would like to thank all respondents for their comments.
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