Customs chief urges exporters to make his department busy

9 April 2015 08:32 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It appears that the Customs Department has plenty of free time on its hands during the normal operating hours, bringing to question the rationality of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake implementing a 24/7 clearance service at the Customs. 
“The Customs is happy because even though we have signed trade agreements with India and Pakistan, still we are not busy because the export sector has not pushed to the expected level,” Customs Department Director General Jagath Wijeweera said.
Karunanayake himself admitted that the 24/7 service, which was started in February, was not being utilized by exporters who have suffered a ‘culture shock’ after demanding Singapore-level efficiency.
“You asked for Singapore, we brought it here. If we are dreaming of Singapore and living in Ethiopia, there is no point,” he told a forum recently. He requested traders to utilize Customs clearance after 6:00 p.m. in order to avoid daytime traffic and to clear cargo within 48 hours.
As a major segment of cargo currently clears after five days, he had recommended doubling the charges of Ports Authority storage facilities and making the weekend liable to demurrage, to motivate traders to utilize the 24/7 service.
Meanwhile, businessmen who utilize air freight complained to him that air cargo is not being cleared around the clock, defeating the purpose of express delivery.
Instead of the resources spent to operate the Customs Department 24/7 at this point in time, the Treasury could have utilized the funds to improve capacities of the exporters to make the Customs Department busy.
Karunanayake, when he was the Trade and Commerce Minister in the 2001-2004 United National Party government, made the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment under his ministry 24/7. But the exercise ultimately proved unsuccessful.
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