By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The Customs Department should maintain its independence and any infraction would be its total responsibility going forward, unlike during the past regime, according to top figures from the government. “Unlike before, going forward, whether it’s the President, Prime Minister or Finance Minister, please don’t allow them challenge you and force you to do things.
You 2,600 officials are responsible for reducing the tax burden of our citizens,” Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said during an inspection tour of the department.
He asked them to stand up to their principles when phone calls from such figures arrive, as they won’t be a valid excuse when the actions are reviewed under good governance.
“There have been many allegations in the media against you. We made use of them in the political battleground. So, please do your duty and ensure no infractions occur in the future and stories don’t come out. We won’t intervene here, so we won’t be answerable. I am telling you this bravely. It will be your total responsibility.”
He made these comments following Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga chastising the officials.
“In the Parliament, there’s a huge allegation against the Finance Ministry that the numbers don’t add up. There are allegations that there are shortcomings in policies, acts and the management. You too are a part of this. There are allegations against you, the revenue administration,” he stressed.
He said while performance had seemed good overall, slips in containing contraband and revenue generation create crises at the ministry, in the parliament and in public, which won’t be forgotten easily.
“We need your experience and knowledge in increasing the revenue, to help the government and society increase the standards of living in the country. If you look back, free education and healthcare were possible because the Customs revenue accounted for 95 percent of the Treasury.”
He said that despite the open economy adopted in 1977 and the economic development that followed, revenue generation has relatively fallen in the recent decades, contrary to the officially published data.
“If the economy improved, why has our revenue gone down? If we can bring it back to 90 percent, we’ll be very happy. But we need to increase it to 75-80 percent at the minimum in the coming two years,” Karunanayake set a target for the officials.