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Customs policy archaic
Lawyers representing businessman and sex therapist Giriraj “Raj” Ramnanan have written to the Comptroller of the Customs and Excise Division to clarify its position on the importation of adult toys.
The move from Ramnanan, a self-professed sexual wellness pioneer in T&T, comes less than a week after e-courier Web Source issued a notice to customers warning that such intimate items fell under the division’s list of prohibited items. The list included other conventional contraband including drugs, firearms and camouflage clothing.
In the letter, Ramnanan’s lawyer Kiel Taklalsingh claimed the division is required to clarify the position, especially for corporate citizens like his client whose businesses revolve around the importation and distribution of such items.
“Any policy or practice of Customs with respect to the deeming of imported items as being “prohibited” must by necessity be sufficiently clear to obviate the risk of Customs Officers acting in an arbitrary manner,” Taklalsingh said.
He questioned whether the division’s officers had the discretion to classify an item as prohibited or whether the division had an overall policy on adult toys and devices.
“Given the fact that there exists a spectrum of objects which may be labelled as “adult toys”, it is also our considered view that it would constitute an unlawful exercise of your discretion for the Customs Department to adopt a carte blanche policy banning any item with the nomenclature “adult toys” in the absence of some clear, cogent and rational criteria,” Taklalsingh said.
He also questioned whether the classification of the items fell under an interpretation of Section 45 (l) of the Customs Act. The legislation bars the importation of “indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, lithographic or other engravings, gramophone records or any other indecent or obscene articles or matter”.
“It is our view that an archaic interpretation of this statutory provision without recourse to modern realities, standards of acceptable practices and proper consultation is irrational, ultra vires the intent of the Customs Act, null and void and of no effect,” Taklalsingh said.
In addition to requesting the legislative basis for the alleged policy, Taklalsingh also requested information on whether the division’s staff was given guidance on classifying items as adult toys. He requested that he receive a response with 14 days.
Speaking to a Guardian Media (GML) team at his Total Image Limited business in St Augustine yesterday, Ramnanan said his lawyers requested the information to determine if a lawsuit against the alleged policy is possible.
Although Ramnanan is seeking clarification in the letter, he claimed the issue of the importation of adult toys arose almost six months ago when some items in his shipment were seized by Customs officials. He claimed competing businesses also experienced similar problems.
He complained, however, that the current process, in which the discretion allegedly rests with individual officers, was too subjective.
Saying mostly products which bear illustrations of genitalia are flagged, he said, “It all depends on how the person wakes up in the morning, their mood, attitude, how they feel about themselves or what they feel about the product based on their religious upbringing.”
Ramnanan also said the ad-hoc policy is loosely based on T&T’s colonial-age laws.
“We changed our Constitution in 1976 but we cut and paste these laws. Now the same countries we have cut and paste from have done away with it, while we still hold on,” Ramnanan said.
Although he said he was willing to take any potential lawsuit through the entire process, Ramnanan suggested it would be easier with political intervention.
“We need some politicians with the testicular fortitude to say hear what, these things need to be taken off or struck off the books and we need to let people decide what they want,” he said.
He also claimed some of the devices on the banned list are being used by some to treat sexual medical conditions, including erectile dysfunction.
“How can you put a ban on these instruments when people use it for their own benefit and medical reasons? These are things that have to be taken into consideration not just the pleasure aspect of it,” he said.
While he said adult toys were considered a taboo subject when he entered the business over 30 years ago, Ramnanan claimed citizens’ attitudes towards them had evolved.
“I have seen a drastic change from the 1980s to now. I have seen people mature and individuals know much more now,” he said.
Ramnanan is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally and Stefan Ramkissoon.
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