The National Board of Revenue (NBR) has asked customs houses to strengthen vigilance to check any irregularity during Eid days – working days for the houses despite government holidays – as some 6,500 import bills piled up at the customs stations at different land and seaports.
The board came up with the instruction as it suspects some unscrupulous importers and their agents, who submitted the bills of entries over the last 30-40 days, have been waiting for the Eid vacation, when customs stations have less manpower, to get their goods released dodging duties under false declarations.
Immediately after the shipments arrive in the country, clearing and forwarding agents in favour of importers submit bills of entries to the customs offices concerned, mentioning the details of the goods, weight and other necessary information. Afterwards, the customs officials start processing the files.
In the 18 April directive, the NBR asked the customs authorities to ensure proper monitoring of the imported goods with the ASYCUDA World System, the integrated and automated customs management system for international trade.
It also directed customs and bond commissionerate offices to ensure adequate manpower at workplaces during the Eid days, keep online utility declarations, import permit checks, business identification number lock systems under strict surveillance, and cross-check the validity of master letters of credit and bond licence validity.
"A huge number of goods, mostly declared as raw materials that have no duties, have been imported in the last several weeks, but importers are yet to come to release those," a senior customs official, seeking anonymity, told The Business Standard.
"As there is less manpower than usual during the Eid days, we fear some unscrupulous traders would capitalise on the situation. As a result, the government can lose a huge revenue," he said while adding that the NBR directive was to prevent the feared irregularity.
Experts, however, believe not only increased workforce but also their risk management skills are needed to prevent tax evasion.
"Honest, skilled and well-equipped customs officials are a must for proper taxation, as well as collecting proper amounts of revenue," said Md Lutfor Rahman, a former NBR member who led several customs houses once.
"It is possible to ensure exact revenue with risk management skills," he told TBS.
Appreciating the NBR move, business leaders urged the authorities not to harass innocent traders in the name of increased vigilance.
"The businesses should be shut down in case of irregularity [false declaration]. However, it is also necessary to ensure that no honest importer will be harassed," Mohammad Hatem, executive president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told The Business Standard.
Currently, the country has 6 customs houses and 14 land customs stations across the country, of which Chattogram Customs House adjacent to the Chattogram Port see the highest import shipments.