Customs at Customs

By Jenny Gray

As Dorothy once said to Toto, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” This statement couldn’t have been truer for my first experience of Vanuatu’s government services, namely customs. I didn’t come here expecting it to be like home however, when we first arrived we had a bit of unaccompanied luggage. It arrived a few days after we did but we only found that out when I enquired a fortnight later. I rang airport customs and a man told me my packages had arrived and I was to come out and pick them up. Okay, I say, do I need to do anything? No, just come out and pick them up. So I go out to the airport and ask for my packages. Then they ask me for my customs clearance. I say what customs clearance? The man on the phone said I could just pick them up. No you need customs clearance. Okay where do I get it? In town. Where in town? At customs. Where’s customs? In town.

So I go into to town and I find customs and they tell me I have to go to a shipping agent. Okay, so I go to a shipping agent and apparently they are the only ones who can fill the form out and they get to charge you seven thousand vatu for the pleasure. So I take my form back to customs. By this time it’s almost 4:30pm and they’re about to close – in fact the guy behind the counter tells me to come back tomorrow. It must have been something in my eyes – that look that says I’m not kidding – because they reluctantly took my papers and processed them.

I then witnessed the most amazing piece of paper shuffling I’ve ever seen. It was a crammed office with two desks next to one another and a third desk two steps away. I watched as the first man at the window took my papers and my money. He then stapled the money and papers together, stamped them then put them on the desk of a man sitting opposite, whereupon the next man unstapled the forms and money stamped the papers and put them in the in-tray of the desk next to his. The third man took the money stapled the papers back together stamped the forms and put them back on the desk of the man at the window who then gave a receipt to me. Not at any time did they talk to one another it was like they worked in separate offices, not in the same room together. And neither did they hand the forms to one another – they put them in each other’s desks as though the person wasn’t there.

So, back in the car out to the airport. I give the clearance papers to the customs man and they tell me to go to the pick up shed out the back. So I drive the car over, hand in the forms and the man at the storage facility says I have to pay storage fees because the boxes have been sitting in storage for two weeks.

Again I think it was something about the look in my eyes the kind of look that says I’m not kidding!

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