barriers for genuine relief aid, efforts to prevent misuse
By Marisa de Silva
Despite Customs relaxing its regulations to entertain
humanitarian aid, strict checks are being maintained on aid coming
to individuals and organisations in an effort to prevent misuse
of the concessions granted, officials said.
response to the appeals and the influx of international generosity,
the Finance Ministry has issued a directive to Sri Lanka Customs
to release all aid, free of all duty and other levies, while general
controls too have been lifted with regard to incoming aid, Mr. M.H.R.
Tissera, head of the special relief facilitation unit said. All
relief aid being sent into the country via air or sea have been
given various tax exemptions, for as long as aid keeps flowing in
or the Ministry instructs otherwise, Mr. Tissera said.
it is going to be a continuous process of aid flow, there must be
continuous facilitation as well" he added. As it stands all
aid entering the country is completely tax and duty free and is
also exempt from exchange, Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI)
and certain import controls, he said. He said that in addition to
sea and air cargo, donors could even send aid via the postal service
or as unaccompanied baggage, for they too receive the same concessions.
addition, measures have been taken to clear relief aid as swiftly
as possible, Mr. Tissera said. "Excluding a few exceptions,
there have been little or no delays and we have even cleared about
100 consignments up to now" he said.
the sea cargo consignments are still to come in, with a few shiploads
of aid from India already cleared, he said. Generally, there is
no inspection of the goods, unless there is a particular reason
to do so. This is all meant to accelerate the clearing procedure,
needed, a random check is conducted. Otherwise, relief lorries are
sent to the runway itself, and goods are transferred directly from
the aircraft to the lorries, he said.
sent via foreign government institutions, diplomatic missions or
first class NGOs such as the Red Cross, are released to their counterparts
at this end, on submission of preliminary documents (e.g. airway
bill/ bill of lading) and necessary identification, Mr. Tissera
if private organisations or individuals have collected aid and are
sending it via air or sea cargo, they are not released to random
individuals at this end, he added. These goods, if belonging to
the medical or medical equipment category are handed over to Health
Ministry officials and if not medical, to the Social Welfare Ministry,
Mr. Tissera said.
if donors have a preferred destination for their goods they can
make a request of it to either Ministry and make arrangements for
its transport there, he said. This procedure is being taken as a
precautionary measure, said Mr. Tissera, as otherwise there will
be plenty of people who would make use of this opportunity to abuse
of the two aforesaid Ministries are working alongside Customs officials
at both the Harbour and Air Cargo Terminals, Mr. Tissera said. Although
aid is still coming mostly in the form of immediate aid (food, clothing,
medicines), in time to come this aid will be replaced by more reconstruction
oriented material, he said.
Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Sri Lanka Navy, SriLankan Airlines, Sri
Lanka Air Force and the Airport and Aviation Authorities are some
of the other key players involved in this facilitation process,
Mr. Tissera said.