WARNING!! Rant to follow!
20 April 2012 | Vuda Point Marina, Fiji
Cloudy with some sprinkles
We finally picked up our new water heater and four gallons of paint yesterday afternoon. Unlike our last experience in importing parts this one was quite the task with a bit of frustration thrown in for "fun".
Our shipment had left New Zealand a while back in a container bound for Lautoka. As with the last shipment, it wasn't unloaded here but was taken off the ship in Suva and then trucked across the island. I headed into Lautoka on Tuesday as we'd not heard that the shipment was in. I checked in with Export Freight Services(the import company that was bringing in our goods). Yes, it was being unloaded in Suva that day and would be in Lautoka on Wednesday. It was time to start the paperwork to get the goods in through Customs. Here is where everything starts to unravel.
EFS(Export Freight Services) recommended we use Western Services to do the paperwork this time since I'd had a few problems with the last company we'd used. I hiked over to their offices and showed them my Bill of Lading as well as the invoice for what we were bringing into Fiji. I pulled out the Customs papers for Zephyr that show our "rotation" number. When you check into Fiji, each boat is given a "rotation" number. This identifies your boat and allows you to bring in parts for your boat duty free. No taxes, no dues. A big help as taxes and fees can really add up when bringing in goods. Our set of Rotation papers were handed to one of the clerks in the office and she grabbed at the "Official Seal" that Customs puts on the upper left corner of the stack of papers making them "legal". She was going to rip it off!!!! Here was the first indication that these people didn't know what they were doing. I should have left at that point. Instead, they made copies of everything and off I went.
Tuesday night, I got an email from Western Services that there were duties of 34% + 15%VAT owed on the paint and 15% +15%Vat owed on the water heater. Say what?!?!?! There should be no taxes at all. I email back telling them to stop and give me a name of some one to talk to. Not waiting for their response, I caught the 0730 bus for town and headed into the Customs office on the dock. I'd taken along pictures of what we were bringing in to show them that it was all for Zephyr. Luckily, I was shown to the head of Customs(he'd checked us in last October) and remembered me. I explained what was happening and showed him the pictures. Being boat parts, there should be no duties or taxes(Yea!). He picked up the phone and called Western Services and straightened it all out. Problem solved(so I thought).
I hiked over to Western Services again and was advised that since I didn't have a bank account in Fiji, they would bring in the goods using their name instead of ours. I have no idea why a bank accept is needed but went along with them. Off I went again to await their next email to tell me I could come and get the goods.
Yesterday(Friday), I got the email and both Tracy and I headed for town on the 1110 bus. We got to Western Services just after 1200. The man who had been handling our import then sets about telling me that I not only have to pay for their services to fill in and file all the paperwork to import the goods($134.50 Fijian), but we also have to pay another $40.50 Fijian to export the goods. As far as they were concerned, yes, we were bringing in the goods duty free but since we were "in transit", we would be then exporting the goods when we left Fiji so they had to fill out paperwork for the export. They just could't grasp the concept that what we were bringing was repair parts and not something we were bringing in and then going to take to Tonga and sell. He wouldn't budge of the fees. So, off we went back to Customs at the dock to get it straightened out. The guy I talked to on Wednesday was in Suva(the capital) in a meeting but his assistant agreed with me about not needing an "Export" form for the parts. Since we wasn't the chief cheese of the department, he urged me to go their Customs main office back in Lautoka. So off we went grabbing a taxi to get their faster.
We told the driver to take us to the Customs office. He asked--"In Nadi?" Nope, here in Lautoka. He had no idea that there even was an office in Lautoka(we'd been there several times so where knew where to go). He stopped in at the local gas station to get directions since he was lost and didn't seem to want to listen to our directions. The driver asked two men that were getting gas where it was. Neither knew and one was emphatic that there was no Customs office in Lautoka. "I live here so I know" was the response we got. We urged the driver on and finally got to the offices about 5 minutes later. When we got out, I asked him how much for the trip. His response "10.00"!! I'd paid $2.50" to get to the docks so I knew he was trying to gouge us. When I refused, he lowered it to $5.00!! His meter read $40.50--he'd never reset it from his last fare. I again refuses and I offered him $3.00. I put the money in his hand and walked off. In the offices got bumped to a supervisor who listened to my problem and eventually agreed with me that these were just parts and not goods that were "in transit". Our boat was but the goods were not. He told us he would call Western Services and get it all straightened out. Since all the offices(as do some businesses) close from 1300 to 1400, we took off for lunch and pick up a part of two since we were in town.
When we returned to Western Services, the gentleman that had been helping us told us he had been called by Customs and that he was right to charge us fees for filling out the paperwork to export our parts. This was getting out of hand quickly. I refused as I'd been told by the last gentleman at Customs that we didn't have to pay. Since I was refusing to pay, he placed a call to the officer I'd talked to. He handed me the phone which quickly died. They tried to call again but couldn't get it to connect. He finally took the bill for filing the export fees and threw it away as he saw I wasn't going to budge on paying it. He gave up finally.
Once that was "settled" he handed me the papers we needed to get the parts from the warehouse and off we went. We grabbed a taxi and headed for the warehouse. Once we had the parts, we had to then head for the docks to have them inspected and a Customs agent join us in the taxi to the marina to make sure we put the parts on the boat. We have no clue as to why that is needed but it's the law. When we got our anchor, it wasn't needed but this time it was. Go figure.
So as of late yesterday, we have our new water heater and 4 gallons of bottom paint. Now the real works starts!