CAMPI president eyed as next Customs chief, say industry execs

Is this the solution to rampant car-smuggling?
by Vernon B. Sarne | Jun 17, 2011

If whispers in the upper echelons of the local car industry are to be believed, the lady president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines could be the next commissioner of the Bureau of Customs.

There are talks among high-ranking officials in the industry about CAMPI president Elizabeth Lee, also the executive vice president of Universal Motors Corporation, being considered by President Noynoy Aquino to replace current Customs chief Angelito Alvarez. If this is true, Lee joins other names--such as Liberal Party members Liwayway Vinzons-Chato and Manuel Mamba--that have been floated as potential successor to Alvarez, who is said to be on his way out of the controversial bureau as soon as next month.

Asked to confirm this development, Lee told TopGear.com.ph: "I am praying for guidance if it is the Lord's will."

It is easy to see why Lee would be a sensible candidate for the Customs post. Taking over CAMPI's leadership in 2005, Lee has piloted the organization--which currently has 11 active carmaker-members--in steering the industry to unprecedented growth. Last year, the local car industry posted total sales of 168,490 units, easily breaking the previous record of 162,056 units set in 1996. Lee has also been a vocal advocate of the country's Motor Vehicle Development Program, constantly lobbying against the importation of used cars and undervalued brand-new vehicles. No surprises, then, that CAMPI had no trouble inviting PNoy to the opening ceremonies of its own car show--the Philippine International Motor Show--in August.

Incidentally, Lee is said to have ties with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima that go back to their days at the auditing firm SGV & Co. Lee worked at SGV during Purisima's tenure as chairman and managing partner in the '90s.

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If things fall into place and Lee does get the Customs post, a few questions will inevitably be asked:

* Can she really be tough on car smugglers?

* Even if she resigns from UMC, which is itself an importer of Nissan commercial vehicles, won't there be a conflict of interest since UMC is owned by her family?

* Can she play it fair toward the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors, whose members left CAMPI at the start of the year over certain issues?

But...we're getting ahead of ourselves. If it does happen, however, it can only be a positive thing for the formal auto industry to have one of its own as the next Customs commissioner. Especially since car-smuggling and the undervaluation of imported units have been among its perennial problems.

Customs Commissioner Elizabeth Lee, anyone?

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