Customs to be transformed into a vibrant institution, says Customs chief | Sunday Observer

Customs to be transformed into a vibrant institution, says Customs chief

Sarojini Charles
Sarojini Charles

The Sri Lanka Customs will be transformed into a vibrant institution enabling it to achieve higher revenue targets in the future by cleaning the ‘Augean stables’ and enforcing discipline in one of the country’s leading money spinners, which is being accused of rampant corruption, Customs Director-General Sarojini Charles told the media, at the Finance Ministry last week, after her reinstatement.

“I will continue the work which I undertook, to streamline operations with an effective system to monitor all functions of the institution.

We need to replace the old law with a new Act in line with modern trends in Customs Services,” she said, adding that the Department will be fully automated by scrapping all paper work which will help monitor operations and end corrupt practices.

The Customs Chief gave these assurances after a week-long ‘work to rule’ campaign by the Customs trade unions, which crippled its functions with a negative chain effect on all businesses linked to the Department of Customs.

According to Customs sources the loss to the country has been estimated at over Rs.1,000 billion with importers having to bear the brunt of demurrage added each day, (which the Finance Minister said has to be borne by the Trade Unions who are responsible for the mayhem).

According to media reports the Customs Chief was dislodged from her position due to an investigation initiated by the Customs against a consignment of black pepper and arecanut imported from India. Imports for export purposes, are permitted only if there is at least a 30% value addition, according to the Customs regulations.

However, according to Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was associted with the media briefing with the Customs Chief, said there is no value addition to many of the items imported for export and a large quantity of them reach the domestic market, resulting in local producers being disadvantaged.

“We will expose all the culprits of the mafia that has existed since 2012 ,aided and abetted by Mahinda Rajapaksa whose goons still continue to plunder and ruin the Customs Department which has not been able to reach its full potential in terms of achieving its revenue targets. We will then bring to book all those who are culpable and deal with them accordingly, within a couple of months after the completion of the investigations,” the Minister said adding that he cannot haphazardly name people as culprits without a proper investigation.

He said the Customs Chief was neither coerced nor asked to step down, nor was she removed to stop the investigations on the consignments.

“I appointed Ms. Charles and she has been an iron lady managing the affairs of the Customs well. Those who shed crocodile tears over her removal, are those who are politically bankrupt and the backers of the Customs Mafia,” the Minister said, adding that the decision to change the Head at the Customs was an administrative decision, and it had nothing to do with her performance.

According to the Minister the revenue earned last year fell short of the Rs. 1,068 billion target set for the year. Revenue earned by the Customs last year was Rs. 931 billion, up from Rs. 831 billion earned in 2016.

Despite the steady growth in Customs revenue since 2015, the institution has so far not been able to achieve Rs. 1 billion in revenue. The Inland Revenue, Excise and the Customs Department are the three institutions which are the highest revenue earners for the State.

“The Customs has the potential to generate more revenue for the country. When the rupee depreciates it benefits the Customs as payments are made in US Dollars.

However, I will not pin the blame on the Customs Chief for missing the target last year, which ended with a political mess,” the Minister said, while accusing the ‘51-day government’ of being responsible for the drop in revenue last year.

The Customs chief said a Customs marine division will be set up to deal with corruption at the Customs, which existed even prior to 1990.

The Customs Trade Unions called off the ‘work-to-rule’ campaign last Wednesday after the reappoint of Charles, who had won the admiration of her staff for being upright and diligent in discharging her duties.

However, the Unions said they want investigations into 134 imported black pepper containers now detained at the Colombo Port and a consignment of 12 metric tons of beedi leaves imported from India, to be continued.