Two businessmen -one Costa Rican, and another national- narrated to CONFIDENCIAL the obstacles, delays and fines imposed on them by the General Directorate of Customs Services (DGA), attached to the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (MHCP), when trying to intern their merchandise to Nicaragua.
“We are a very rigorous company in paying our taxes. We do not have late payments with the Nicaraguan State, ”said the Costa Rican source, who works for a company that provides services to large corporations that have a presence throughout the region.
“Customs put so many barriers on us that there was no way to resolve this through legal channels,” said the Nicaraguan source, whose company is dedicated to importing products for local trade.
The issue gained new momentum when the management of the La Prensa newspaper reported that the DGA had seized a shipment of 62 reels of paper, valued at just over 15,000 dollars, without giving them any explanation, so that on Friday it did not circulate in its printed version.
The regime’s response was to announce that they were being investigated for the alleged crimes of customs fraud, money laundering, goods and assets, carrying out a “search and search”, which ended with the occupation of the newspaper’s facilities, in the same way that they did with the writing of CONFIDENTIAL in December 2018 and May 2021.
Although they admit that they do not have absolute certainty as to why the DGA is imposing obstacles on them that had never been applied to them before, and since no one in their business environment has ties or political prominence, the representatives of the two affected companies can only assume that the reason To delay them as Nicaraguan customs did, it is necessary to collect more, at any cost.
“Our contacts in Nicaragua tell us that the Government is bankrupt, so it is looking for ways to collect, affecting the transnationals, causing the merchandise to fall into abandonment to generate income, because they charge additional storage and fines, in addition to later imposing more detailed procedures to review the merchandise, which delays the process, if not the DGA experts look for ways to harm you, “said the attic.
His Nicaraguan counterpart said that customs personnel act like this, due to “a gigantic collection voracity, and to keep their bases happy, allowing them to make these ‘collections’ for their own benefit.”
Nicaragua: backward bureaucracy
At the beginning of June, a shipment containing equipment that serves to help prevent Covid-19 arrived in Nicaraguan ports. It was not the first time that this multinational company, which has established offices in several countries to serve “strong clients with a regional presence”, brought this type of equipment to the country, but it was the first time they had been blocked.
“This time, when nationalizing them, they asked us for fiscal solvency. We requested it in time to complete the process, but it was delayed because they asked us for billing information from three previous years ”. The delay in obtaining this document caused the merchandise to fall into disrepair, and although they were eventually able to move on, the Customs again detained them, because the equipment was not considered as a medical device, ”said the source.
The next thing was that they were told that they had to register with the Ministry of Health (Minsa), which meant several more weeks of delay -and a disbursement of 500 dollars to carry out the procedure- despite the fact that “we are not suppliers of medical equipment.” . In all that time, the fiscal solvency expired, so they had to reapply for it.
When they asked again, they were required to present even older documentation. This time they took more than a week to review it and give them fiscal solvency again, which allowed them to get their merchandise out after ten weeks.
“We do not understand why tax solvencies expire in such a short time, nor why the second time they asked us for additional information, since in the past they had asked us for the same information to obtain other solvencies. We move merchandise in Central and South America, and the longest a nationalization takes is four to five days, but in Nicaragua it was ten weeks, “he lamented.
All this delay generated losses, because the cost of the product increased, having to pay a storage of 250 dollars; a permit from the Ministry of $ 500; assume the customer’s penalty for late delivery, plus additional payments to the customs company that serves them in Nicaragua.
“As a businessman, I do not understand that a government, instead of favoring companies to grow, puts so many obstacles to trade. It seemed to me a very strange situation, because in Costa Rica we have a very light customs, which releases the merchandise in one to two days maximum, and in which everything can be paid online ”, he compared.
The source recalled that, despite the insistence of his staff in Nicaragua to obtain fiscal solvency, “they always gave us one postponement after another. A DGI official told us that they have a guideline to follow; that she did not have a maximum time to review the documentation, and that the term was determined by the time she spent reviewing the papers ”.
His thesis when verifying that 90% of the merchandise that they export to Nicaragua comes out in the red, is that “this happens to companies that are not contributing funds to the government party. We have analyzed this on several occasions, and thought about closing the operation in Nicaragua, not only because of the political situation, but also because of the commercial situation ”.
For now, the decision is to continue in the country, because “we serve several strong companies, but although it does not generate profits, Nicaragua is a strategic country, because there are several of our clients. If they were not there, we would close our operation in Nicaragua, “he said.
Pay, to be able to pay
The Nicaraguan company has several elements in common with its Costa Rican counterpart. They import merchandise from other Central American countries, and the last time they took a shipment to the country, the DGI ordered an audit that, taking so long, caused them to lose the solvency that the DGI had issued to them.
When they finally recovered it, the DGA decided that what they were reporting in terms of freight was very low, so they stopped the process, but “they sent the communication to an address that was not ours, despite the fact that we have been in the company for decades. market ”, detailed the national businessman.
As the company did not respond to a communication that it never received, Customs blocked them in the system for lack of response, and although they asked the authority for a copy of the notification, to show that they were never notified, they did not give them that copy.
When they wanted to restart the process, they found a fine for adjusting the value of freight and merchandise, “adding an amount of several thousand dollars, which we refuse to pay, because we know that it is not correct. Our advisor told us that if we paid that sum, even once, they would always do the same to us from that moment on, so we decided to look for another instance ”.
He narrates that, while they were in that process, “’rescuers’ appeared offering to unblock the management, in exchange for payment for their services . We saw that they practically closed the doors to us from all sides to force us to negotiate in that way, and there was no way to do it through legal channels ”, he admitted.
“What that ‘savior’ did was to give us access to the system again, but only so that they would let us pay what they were charging, although with a waiver of the fine on the fine,” he explained.
Expert: customs riot reflects administrative deficiency
Abelardo Medina Bermejo, coordinator of the Macrofiscal Analysis area of the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Icefi), based in Guatemala, said that the Council of Ministers of Economic Integration, (Comieco), seeks to reduce tax burdens, but customs administrations respond decreasing its efficiency in customs clearance.
“In practice, it is as if taxes have been raised, which distorts the decisions of businessmen, who no longer think about marketing that product, but instead seek to work with one that involves a lower payment, which reduces the country’s efficiency. , as well as the productivity and competitiveness of economic agents and in the long run, of the State itself ”.
Although he does not rule out the possibility that the reason behind this attitude is merely tax collection, the Chapin expert notes that “this increases effective protection (protectionism) in favor of certain economic groups”, although it can also be “pure incapacity.”
“Customs are an instrument of competitiveness, not of tax collection. When customs collect taxes, what it shows is that the tax agency [the DGI, in the Nicaraguan case] has many deficiencies and weaknesses that it has not been able to solve, and uses customs as a crutch, ”explained the academic.
A student of international trade, customs and community law, who asked to keep his name in reserve, told CONFIDENCIAL that, in Nicaragua, “doubts of value are the headache of every day.”
“These technical obstacles make intra-community trade difficult, so what corresponds is the claim to customs that causes this situation, so that it returns to the fold in which the agreement was negotiated,” he suggested.
The source recommended to those affected, “go to the Mific.” To the Tico businessman, he also recommended “to go before the Minister of Economy of Costa Rica, supporting with documents, the report of the obstacles that exporting to Nicaragua has been causing him.”
The foreign businessman said that he has not presented his case before any union or official instance of his country, and the Costa Rican Union of Chambers and Associations of the Private Business Sector, (Uccaep), told this publication that they have no direct reference on the subject of obstacles to trade.