Custom House, Ctg: Where 1 tonne is not always 1 tonne | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 22, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:57 AM, November 22, 2020

Custom House, Ctg: Where 1 tonne is not always 1 tonne

Officials helping importers dodge revenue; Experts call for strict punishment, say mere transfer won’t work

MS Selim Machinery, a Jashore-based company, imported car parts from India through the Chattogram Port in March this year.

The imported goods weighed 20 tonnes as per the documents. An assistant revenue officer of the Custom House, Chattogram  cleared the consignment after physical examination, declaring that it matched the papers.

But a second inspection by the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate, following information about irregularities in the first examination report, found the weight of goods to be 41 tonnes.

Had the first examination report not been challenged, the government would have been deprived of around Tk 60 lakh in revenue, said the investigation report.

The official who conducted the first physical examination was suspended in early October for submitting a biased report.

This is not an isolated incident of customs officials getting involved in corrupt practices in coalition with a section of dishonest importers and C&F agents for personal gain.

The Custom House, Chattogram has found at least 59 of its employees involved in helping importers dodge customs duty, according to an internal investigation conducted from 2018 till this year.

The authorities have suspended six of them, framed charges against 17, show-caused 23 and sought clarification from the remaining 13 officials, according to official documents.

Corruption in the Custom House can only be curbed with stern punishment of corrupt officials, said experts. They also said transfers from one department to the other, which has often been used as a disciplinary measure, will not solve the problem.

Between 2016 and 2018, the Custom House transferred 48 officials who helped importers dodge duties. No punitive action, however, was taken against them.

"No action is taken even after officials were found to be involved in specific irregularities as the corruption has got an institutional shape there. None of these irregularities are possible without the involvement of customs officials," said Dr Moinul Islam, former professor at the economics department of the University of Chittagong.

"Most of the officials are beneficiaries of those irregularities. Who will take action against them?" he questioned.

Contacted,  Commissioner Fakhrul Alam of Custom House, Chattogram recently said there was no exemplary punishment against dishonest officials in the past.

"A number of dishonest customs officials were involved in such irregularities and the government lost huge amounts of revenue because of them," said Fakhrul Alam, who joined as the commissioner last year.

"We have suspended six officials and legal action has been taken against more than 50 officials for their alleged involvement in revenue dodging."

He also said they have found evidence of corruption against three officials -- a deputy commissioner and two assistant commissioners.  "But we have no authority to punish these three BCS officers. So, a letter has been sent to the public administration ministry to take action against them."

He added, "Those officials have been transferred to an unimportant section till the decision of the ministry is reached."

The Custom House is responsible for revenue collection from Chattogram Port, which handles nearly 92 percent of the country's imports and exports.

It had a target of collecting Tk 63,168 crore for the current fiscal year, which would have been 18 percent of the total revenue collection target of the National Board of Revenue (NBR).

NBR, however, readjusted the target to Tk 58,298 crore in May as collections started plummeting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Custom House collected Tk 42,853 crore in revenue during the last fiscal year, 2019-20, which is around 20 percent of the total collection by NBR -- Tk 2,23,892 crore.


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