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Sri Lanka’s border control possible sans legal changes: Shippers’ Council chief

10 Jun 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      



Assert the will  to do so is missing
Reiterate the manual process hurting SL’s competitiveness



  • By Nishel Fernando 

The government has all necessary tools in its disposal to fully digitalise Sri Lanka’s corruption-ridden border control agencies without undertaking any major legal reforms, according to key private sector players. 

Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council Chairman Sean Van Dort outlined that Sri Lanka’s exporters who are already squeezed by high utility costs, are not in a position to withstand significant delays  and corruption in the country’s import-export trade arising from manual processes maintained by  border control agencies such as Sri Lanka Customs (SLC), Board of Investment (BOI) , Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA) , ports and airports .

“The corruption in import export trade is huge. We believe there’s a loss to the government revenue because there are malpractices taking place in the manual processes,” Van Dort noted.
He shared these concerns speaking at a press conference organised by Sri Lanka United National Businesses Alliance (SLUNBA) on Friday. 

Quipping that the so-called ‘single window’ initiative today has become a ‘double door’, Van Dort noted that exporters  are unable to clear inputs imported under BOI regulations for re-exports in a timely manner and without subjecting to bribes. The latter has tarnished the country’s competiveness ultimately resulting in a loss of these lucrative re-export orders to competitors.  

“We cannot be accusing each and every officer in these departments. What we are asking is to digitise the import-export trade 100 percent.. The digital app of 2006 was reinforced in 2016. It supersedes all Acts and Ordinances that were thrown at our face,” he said.

Therefore, he stressed that the government’s  willingness is only lacking to return to level of digitalisation seen during Covid pandemic.  While other countries continued to build up on digital mechanisms adopted during the pandemic,  Sri Lanka was quick to revert to old manual mechanisms leaving room for corruption and inefficiencies for exporters, importers, manufacturers  in particular  SMEs along with all other stakeholders.   

“It was the happiest time for all importers and exporters to work on a digital platform. Once the Covid was over, we were reverted back to manual processes,” Van Dort remarked. 

He pointed out that the current approach in digitalising these manual processes haven’t had any breakthroughs over the past 15-year period which has been a repeating cycle of failure.
“We have seen that when officers change, then deadlines go off.  This is a continuous problem. I have worked with many DGs of Sri Lanka Customs over the last 15 years, you will be surprised to know it,” he added.

In addition to the above mentioned borer control agencies, other agencies such as Excise Department also continue to seek manual documentation from private sector players such hotels, restaurants etc. This has also impacted the tourism sector. 
He stressed that complete distillation is the only way for us to become competitive in international markets and to reduce corruption.

Meanwhile, SLUNBA Chairperson Tania Abeysundara professed that the government must bring in required policies towards a systematic change through digitalisation. However, she claimed that the government is yet to show any interest in bringing forward such policies. She lamented over government’s failure to offer any support for SMEs.

According to SLUNBA, an estimated 300,000 businesses had gone bankrupt wiping out nearly one million employment opportunities.