Importers told to get tough on Customs

Published : 11:58 am  June 1, 2015 | No comments so far |  |  (560) reads | 
Traders seek more advantageous regulations through negotiations



Experts asked importers to not give Sri Lanka Customs any room to make excuses, to push the potential of Customs officials to the limit, and to speak up against foul play during a recent forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“Don’t let the Customs have any space to make excuses. The more we make them do things, the more they will fall in line,” Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Import Section Chairman Dinesh De Silva said.

He asked importers to create situations through which the traders can negotiate and create more advantageous regulations.

“Make it impossible for them to do something. Stretch the limit. If you don’t do that, we won’t have a situation to negotiate.  They will just say ‘if you had asked, we would have done it’,” De Silva added.

Association and Clearing and Forwarding Agents Chairman Anton Emmanuel requested the traders to make the most out of such opportunities by negotiating through a trade association or a chamber.

“If you personally go and make a complaint, it then becomes a rift between you and a certain officer.  When we make a representation or a complaint since it’s a body, we can get an immediate solution,” he said.

However, he said that associations still face many problems with import control regulations, Sri Lanka Customs and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).
“Some of those, we have got immediate answers, but many of those are just swept under the carpet, and they just continue. There are no solutions,” he said.

Some issues raised by the importers included the air freight import license costing Rs. 500 a month compared to the SLPA annual license fee of Rs. 384, and the Board of Investment companies being charged Rs. 300 per import entry by Sri Lanka Customs at the World Trade Centre after 4pm despite the 24/7 customs operations.

“These are gimmicks they use,” Emmanuel said, and added that corruption had reached new heights in the recent years, and called for all traders to speak up against it.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake maintains that Tax revenue from external trade has averaged Rs. 2.5 billion daily since the regime change compared to Rs. 1 billion in the past, but said that collections were still lower than ideal. Sri Lanka Customs Director General Jagath Wijeweera who spearheaded the effort recently resigned, citing personal reasons.

Utilizing 24/7 facility
The trade bodies requested importers and exporters to utilize the 24/7 customs clearance facility, the failure of which could lead to such a process not being implemented by any government in the future.

“The former Director General Customs said this was a trial period. For 2 months they were going to try this out. This would be discontinued if the trade did not react positively to this facility,” Emmanuel said.

De Silva noted that the process of acquiring this facility had been extremely difficult, with the present Finance Minister approving it after years of lobbying by the trade bodies.

“If this dies, no other government will start this again in the future,” he said.

Emmanuel expressed that this was due to the high costs attributed to a 24/7 operation, such as overtime, and utilities despite the Customs accounting for a high portion of government revenue. However, he stressed that the pros vastly outweigh the cons.

“We anyway pay for their overtime and we’re not making use of it,” he said.

Ceylon Freight and Logistics Association Chairman Maxwell De Silva said that utilizing the facility would reduce congestion of customs inspection and administrative procedures and businesses could return empty containers at night. 

However, Emmanuel noted that Customs officers have been harassing customers and delaying services during the night.

“We need to have standards for nights,” De Silva said.

Dinesh De Silva however said that this would come about naturally if traders change their patterns and use the facility.
“I’m not saying that it’s 100 percent perfect. 

There are problems. It will only become perfect if we get involved in it. There are people who would prefer if we didn’t take up this challenge or failed,” he added.