Sri Lanka plans customs cutter unit amid drug smuggling

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is planning to set up a marine customs enforcement unit to combat smuggling amid a rise in drug smuggling, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

"There has been a suggestion to set up a marine customs unit," Samaraweera told reporters. "That will improve the customs service."

Sri Lanka has had sea-based service until around the turn of the last century, Director General of Customs P S M Charles said.

The current customs ordinance dates back to 1867 when the country was under British colonisation.

The UK has operated revenue cutters from the sailing era to combat smuggling in the English Channel.

Smuggling increased during hostilities between France and the Britain when imports from the country were banned or restricted.

The customs service is one of the bulwarks of a European style nation-state that came with colonial rule to South Asia, which includes police and a standing army that can be used by the elected ruling classes to impose their will on unarmed citizens.

In Sri Lanka, post-independence rulers of the country used the customs service to enforce excessively high import duties and restrict the economic freedoms of citizens, especially the poor, and support politically powerful domestic business oligarchs and lobbies.

High and unreasonable border taxes automatically encourage smuggling and may also lead to a general increase in corruption and breakdown in respect for law in a society, critics say.

India and the entire Bay of Bengal region saw a rise in trade restrictions after independence and the setting up of money-printing, soft-pegged central banks that generated foreign exchange shortages and balance of payments troubles. Trade is then restricted to cover monetary policy errors.





In countries like Pakistan, which has frequent balance of payments trouble due to a soft-pegged central bank, there is public debate over the phenomenon of high import duties encouraging smuggling (Additional import duty to promote smuggling).

Samaraweera said there have been detections of drugs in the country, but a majority of it was made by other authorities and not customs.

After the end of a 30-year war, large hauls of drugs like ‘Kerala ganja’ or Indian-grown cannabis had been made, some of which are entering the country through coastal regions in former war zones.

Cannabis is a traditional herb, pain killer or narcotic in South Asia and Central Asia that was criminalised following European colonial rule.

The use of so-called ‘Indian Hemp’ spread around the British Empire with travelling Indian workers, leading to local colonial rulers in some areas, who were previously not familiar with its use, banning their use and leading to a gradual criminalisation of the product.

Some former colonial rulers such as the Netherland have since decriminalised cannabis. (Colombo/Feb 07/2019 – SB)

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