Customs focused on achieving targets | Sunday Observer

Customs focused on achieving targets

P. M. S. Charles
P. M. S. Charles

Director General, Sri Lanka Customs Mrs. P. M. S. Charles is a veteran civil servant who was Government Agent for Vavuniya and Batticaloa successively for nine and a half years, having played a significant role in successfully implementing the government’s development programs, resettling war-displaced families and addressing the multifarious problems and miseries of the people of the war-ravaged districts. She was appointed as Director General Customs in October 2017.

She talks to the Sunday Observer together with her Additional Director General S. Rajenran.

Excerpts:

Q: Prior to your present post as DG, Customs you served as Government Agent for the Vavuniya and Batticaloa districts dealing mostly with the public, and matters relating to their problems and welfare. This is totally a different field.

A: I am still not fully familiar with this system. I am sure I will become familiar with it soon with the help of my senior staff. I am yet in the learning process.

While targets are given to us for generating revenue, we also have the responsibility of protecting the cultural heritage and moralities of society. It is different from my previous experience of working with the public. Here we work with government departments and the business fraternity.

Q: The Customs announced a ‘Single Window’ concept, to go paperless to simplify and expedite the clearance procedure. What is the current state of the program and how far has it been successful?

A: The current procedure for imports and exports for customs clearances involves submitting the customs declaration in hard copies, signed manually, together with other related documents, including invoices, packing lists and delivery orders. When the declaration is submitted, it is processed manually for calculating the duties and other levies payable. Then the goods are examined and released.

When goods come under the categories requiring import control licence or other restrictions we refer the cases to the relevant authorities, including, the Sri Lanka Standards Institution or other such institution.

Once cleared, they go through the examination points and get released. In the meantime, we started the automation in customs, way back in 2003, and now we are continuing with it.

Under the automation system the customs declaration details are fed into the system, on line, but the process has to take place through manual copies. Now, we want to do away with manual copies and go paperless.

To do that and to accept the declaration electronically, some amendments have to be incorporated into the current Electronics Transactions Act which empowers government organizations on air transactions electronically.

We need some amendments and regulations incorporated into the Act, i.e. to replace manual signature with digital signature, and also for all supporting documents to be submitted electronically.

Once this is done we will be able to implement the paperless procedure which, in turn, will simplify and expedite the work. We anticipate to implement it this year. Single Window is a great step forward and the World Bank is supporting us with the funding and the Master Plan for the Single Window system. Once the master plan is finalized, the government will take a decision based on the recommendations.

Q: What is the present state with regard to the amendments to the Act?

A: The Act with the necessary amendments will come into force soon.

Q: How efficient is the IT Department in the Customs, do you think they are capable of handling the paperless procedure?

A: The automation system that the Customs is now using is ASYCUDA (World) which stands for Automated System for Customs Data. It is a good system that meets our requirements. Our computer clearance system is of a high standard. So we are confident we can do it through the system.

Q: Is the contribution of the Customs to the national coffers progressively on the increase year by year?

A: Yes. The revenue for 2017 is much more than that of 2016. For 2017 our target was Rs.945 B. We achieved Rs.917 B. which is 97 % of the target given to us. The target for the current year is 1Trillion and 60 Billion which is about 120 B more than our target for last year.

Q: Are you hopeful of achieving that target?

A: I believe we will be able to achieve the target.

Q: Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with the neighbouring countries is reported to be progressively on the increase every year. What is the role Customs can play in boosting exports?

A: The government is striving to increase the level of our exports several folds by 2020. In the Customs we have different schemes for boosting local manufacture. Under the schemes raw-materials can be imported for re-export of the finished products. We have a Temporary Export Promotion scheme, Consolidated Export Promotion scheme and other such schemes. Raw material and machinery can be imported tax-free for re-export of the finished products under these schemes.We work in collaboration with the Export Development Board, the Department of Imports and Exports and several other relevant government departments.

Q: In recent times Sri Lanka is said to be a transit centre for narcotic drugs. Do you have a trained team to detect and do you have a reward system for any potential informers?

A: We have a well-trained team and there have been a good number of detections last year. There is a special division on detections on smuggling operations, and a very attractive reward system for informers. A first degree information should provide all details of the smuggling operation and when the detection is successful, the informant is rewarded handsomely.

Q: There are complaints that some of the containers with imported consignments are held up unduly with importers having to pay heavy demurrage and other charges. Your comments please?

A: If you take the statistics, there are about 1,500 containers docking in daily, and 90 percent of these containers are cleared within 24 hours. Delays on the remaining 10 percent may be due to problems such as, the goods needing approval from other sources, etc. These are circumstances beyond the control of the Customs. Containers detained for investigations could take a longer time, depending on the count of violations that had taken place.

Q: Can you also tell us about the present situation with regard to vehicle imports and petroleum crude oil imports?

A: On vehicle imports, taxing has been streamlined through the last budget, it has been simplified and there is no question of under valuation or anything of the sort. It is done in a very transparent manner. Taxing is based on the capacity of the vehicle. And petroleum crude oil is the number one source of our revenue. We have no issues with regard to the import of petroleum crude oil. 

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