Last week, State Minister Michael Halkitis told the media that new cruiser fees for pleasure boats being collected by Customs as of July 1 was being done by Customs without government approval.
He is quoted as saying the government never intended for the fees to be created or collected at all, and that Customs came up with the idea of the fees on their own but that the government “told them no”.
The controversial cruiser permit fees in question are an increase to $400 for vessels over 35 feet and an increase to $1,000 for extensions of permits past a period of 12 months. Both new fees are laid out in the new Customs Management Act, passed by Parliament & Senate during the 2013/2014 Budget Debate. So the Minister did not speak the truth to the media when he said the government never came up with those fees – the fees are now the law of the land via the government’s own Customs Management Act which came into effect on July 1, 2013. (Link here to Act Regulations Pages 37-38)
Now there are two major issues resulting from this:
#1 – The Minister told the media that fees already paid by cruisers will be refunded. That cannot happen legally, as the fees are the law of the land. If the government no longer wants these fees to be the law, it must now amend the Customs Management Act to remove these fees. The Minister of Finance cannot instruct Customs to break the law by not collecting the fees. If the law is not amended, the fees must be collected, just as all other legislated taxes must be collected.
#2 – When the Minister told the media the tale that the Customs Department decided it wanted to collect new cruiser fees on its own, the government “told them no”, and they went out and collected the money anyway, he in effect accused Customs of misappropriation of funds, because he claimed they took these people’s money on their own, and not according to law. This clearly was not true – Customs was simply following the law enacted by the government.
Customs can only do what the government instructs it to do. The law of the land is that instruction. The new Customs Management Act is now the law of the land. Instead of simply admitting that his government fouled up with their widely criticized process of new taxes without consultation, Mr. Halkitis pinned fault on customs officers for doing what they were instructed to do.
The media should have put the lie to Mr. Halkitis’ comments when he made them, because the Customs Management Act was tabled as part of the Budget Bills, and is therefore available to every member of the public who wants to see it. The Bills are also online. Since the media ought to have known that Customs does not have the ability or authority to collect taxes outside of instruction from the law/government, it ought not have allowed Mr. Halkitis to tell them what he did without balancing his comments with the facts.