Customs Supporting Documents: THE AUDIT TRAIL

          In my early Customs days, assembling supporting documents was like a ritual. It was even like a science. We would dismantle and re-assemble hordes of documents. There was a method to it and a purpose behind each file type. It was important to collate and re-assemble documents into a specific sequence. It had to do with a concept known in the auditing profession (and numerous others) as the “Audit Trail”. An Audit Trail in this scene has to do with a set of documents which, if put into order of occurrence (whether in forward or reverse order) should resemble a chain of events. The chain tells you a story. Anything missing in the chain or that is out of sink in the story is cause for concern and hence, cause for an in-depth assessment.

          Today, much of this concept of sequence and feel has being lost to EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). However, it remains a very important concept to know for any type of assessment.

          Whenever Customs request for a standard set of supporting documents, the following should be supplied (these are listed in a somewhat traditional sequence for assessment purposes):

1)      Customs Release Notification, if applicable.

2)      Customs Declaration, if applicable.

3)      Commercial invoice.

4)      Packing list.

5)      Customs Worksheet.

6)      Transport document.

7)      Freight statement.

8)      Certificates and Permits.

9)      Customs Vouchers of Correction, if applicable.

10)  Literature.

11)  Any other supporting documents specifically requested. These may include indent orders, proof of payment and contracts of sale, supplier price lists, third party contracts, and so forth.

Whenever analysing a set of documents, sit back and review the chronological order of the pack and sequence of events. Ask what should come first, what follows and so forth? You will quickly see if something is missing.

Here are some examples of things you can look out for. Ask yourself: does the indent order number appear on the invoice; does the invoice number appear on the packing list; do the product codes on the invoices match the packing list; do the product codes which appear on the invoice reflect properly on the suppliers literature; are all the invoice pages present (i.e. the last page which contains valuable information is often left off); do the invoices reflect the full payment (i.e. not only the 50% advance payment); are all the invoice numbers which appears on the proof of payment present; do all the values, weights and quantities on the invoice and packing list tie up to the transport document; and so forth.

          Photocopies of supporting documents are generally acceptable today. The only real exceptions are permits, certificates, and in some cases invoice declarations. Invoice declarations pertain to trade agreements where the authorised signature on the invoice must be original. The rest may be photocopies unless the authorities request the originals to be produced.

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