Door open for commercial cargo via BIA after removal of Customs Task Force
The suspension of the Customs Revenue Task Force (RTF) from operations at the Bandaranaike International Airport this week has led to an upsurge of commercial cargo from India, Customs officials said.
Following a protest from traders regularly importing items from India the unit comprising nearly 50 officials were directed to refrain from carrying out checks on passengers arriving and instead have been detailed on other routine work.
The head of the unit, Customs Deputy Director K.Premanath told the Sunday Times that the RTF officials were carrying out their routine work, without carrying out checks on baggage bought in by passengers.
Traders who are regular importers told the Sunday Times that since the suspension of the operations of the RTF at Katunayake they were now carrying more baggage with some of them bringing as much as 100 kilograms each.
“We welcome the decision of the Government to remove the RTF from the BIA as the move will facilitate more trade,” Mohammed Rifa, a regular trader who has done more than 500 trips during the past 20 years said.
He claimed certain officials attached to the RTF were in favour of some businessman adding that when two different traders brought similar amounts of textiles as baggage, the RTF unit imposed a penalty of Rs. 140,000 on one while the other had to pay a smaller penalty of Rs. 51,000.
However RTF officials who did not want to be named said that the allegations were false and two similar cargoes could be treated in a different manner as some of them are regular travellers carrying baggage in commercial quantities while the others may be first time travellers.
An RTF official said the absence of the RTF could lead to large quantities of items being imported to the country without proper checks leading to loss of revenue.He said last year the RTF was able to net a revenue of Rs. 800 million.
Due to the absence of facilities to check cargo at the BIA, the RTF, at times directs the traders to clear their cargo from the terminal in Colombo where more elaborate checking facilities are available.
Last week Customs Director General Dr. Neville Gunawardena informed the RTF officials that Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B.Jayasundara had directed that the RTF should no longer carry out duties at the BIA.
Meanwhile a facility provided by SriLankan Airlines for regular travellers are also being made use of by the traders importing items from India.
Currently if passengers travel more than 50 trips on the airline they are entitled to a gold card where they can carry 65 kilograms each as against the 20 kilos which is provided to normal passengers. Those who have done 25 trips are offered a silver card where they can carry 50 kilos each.
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