COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Importers harassed by lower ranking members of Sri Lanka’s Customs trying to block its new round-the-clock trade facilitation service should speak up and complain, officials in the freight business said.
“You have to speak out,” Anton Emmanuel, chairman of the Association of Clearing and Forwarding Agents told importers and freight forwarders at a forum to assess the new 24×7 Customs service.
He said there were bound to be “teething problems” with the new service where Customs and other agencies work longer hours and do online processing of documentation and payments.
It was introduced on 1 March 2015 aimed to speed up cargo clearance and eliminate corruption since paperwork and visits to Customs and the port are reduced.
But the trade has been reluctant to use the service as it means working after normal hours and paying staff overtime.
Emmanuel recalled how he had called senior Customs officials when he heard his staff were being harassed and asked for bribes to clear cargo.
“The problem was sorted out and the officer involved was transferred,” he said, urging the forum to complain to the association if they were worried about being singled out and victims if they complained individually.
“The lower rungs of Customs are making it difficult for wharf clerks. The association will take up your complaints on your behalf with the higher authorities.”
“Since it is a body we get a solution – this is the advantage of going through a body and not going individually.”
Lower ranking Customs officials were harassing the trade by asking for extra documentation, unnecessary inspections and taking longer than necessary to process cargo, all aimed at soliciting bribes.
“If they victimise you, we can have them victimised,” Emmanuel told the forum held by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
“You can’t take out a torn without a pin – sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.”