The Customs Department is the major revenue-collecting agency of the government that contributes over 60% of the govt tax revenue. The primary duty of this department is to collect and protect the revenue barring all forms of tax evasions including organized smuggling.
However, the records show that the Customs has failed in its primary duty causing tremendous revenue losses to the government mainly due to officers colluding with the fraudster elements with no action being taken against them, resulting in the total breakdown of rule of law. The gravity of this lawlessness is vividly depicted with officers holding high profile offices, such as Deputy Director of Generals of Customs being charged for their alleged connivance in a number of organized revenue frauds.
A series of Customs cases referred below bear ample evidence demonstrating the level of corruption with the involvement of the officers from various ranks violating the Customs Law for unjust enrichment.
In the Case No POM/025/2016, a Deputy Director General of Customs has been charged for collusion with fraudster elements to smuggle out a shipment of contraband, which was detected by the Police Special Task Force on 19th Jan 2016, after the shipment was removed from the Colombo port premises. Yet, in spite of the completion of the investigations by June 2016 and the overwhelming evidence recovered, up until now no action has been against this senior officer and the others involved in the fraud. The total revenue defrauded in the case runs into over 17 million rupees. The latest development of this case is the withdrawal of the Inquiring Officer appointed to hear this case on 05th May 2017.
In the case CIB/INV/137/137/2015, a Superintendent of Customs was nabbed at the Katunayake airport on 27th March 2015 whilst attempting to smuggle out 3 kilograms of gold valued over 18 million rupees concealed in his socks. Yet, the Department has absolutely failed to initiate action against the suspect officer who continues to be in service making the Customs Service a mockery.
In the case CIB/INV/14/2013/CCR/1384, a shipment of ethanol valued over 33 million rupees was detected by the officers of the Excise Department after it was passed by the Customs on 13th March 2013 as a shipment of chemicals (turpentine oil). The investigation revealed the direct involvement of the then Director of Customs responsible for Prevention of Smuggling, who was later promoted to the Additional Director General of Customs whilst the case against him was pending. The administration failed to take any action against the suspect officer concerned.
These cases are a simply a tip of the iceberg and show the dismal failure of the Customs Department to perform its duty as required by the Customs Ordinance. This is not a new phenomenon only applicable to Customs but exists in the other revenue agencies of the government as well.