By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The private sector is in a state of “culture shock” and not utilizing the newly established 24/7 Customs clearance facility, according to the Finance Minister was speaking at a forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Import Section yesterday.
“You’re having a culture shock. You talk of Singapore. We brought Singapore here. Make use of it,” Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said.
Meanwhile, the globally benchmarked ASYCUDA World electronic customs clearance and payment system has also been implemented by the Customs.
“You (importers) need to change. You have been given the opportunity. You have been given the technology you asked. Some in the private sector can’t handle paperless procedures. Before thinking of increasing transshipments to India, you need to use these systems, because some transshipments need to be processed within 24 hours,” Karunanayake added.
The 24/7 service was launched on February 1, and yet 35 percent of the cargo is still being cleared after 5 days, according to data from the Customs Department. Ports Authority representatives said that this is due to the extremely low cost of storage inside the port, and weekends not being considered for demurrage.
Karunanayake expressed that the Ministry is open to all avenues in making importers clear goods at least within 48 hours.
“I would love to double the charge. Let’s raise the tariffs. Let’s make Saturday and Sunday demurrage days too,” he claimed.
However, the importers claimed that shipments with less-than container loads (LCL) take over a week to process due to technical restraints of the Ports Authority.
The representatives in reply pledged to requisition more equipment to clear LCLs within 48 hours as well.
Customs Department Director General Jagath Wijeweera said that the 24/7 service would also be extended to air freight, since the importers complained that despite paying a premium to fly cargo within hours, cargo clearance takes days.
Karunanayke, when he was the Trade and Commerce Minister in 2001-2004 United National Party government, made the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment under his ministry 24/7. But the exercise ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, MirrorBusiness learnt that the Customs has continued to accrue daily revenue exceeding Rs.2 billion for the third consecutive month, an unprecedented feat, driven by increased taxes on cars implemented in the interim budget.