Mangala accuses big business mafia

Mangala Samaraweera

The Government has decided to appoint a special committee to track down revenue leakages in Sri Lanka Customs under the supervision of a retired judge, Finance Minister, Managala Samaraweera said yesterday.

Addressing a special media conference, he claimed that a ‘big business mafia’ was behind the revenue leakages in many of Sri Lanka Custom’s activities.

According to the provisional figures provided by the Finance Ministry, Government revenue was around only Rs 1.98 trillion last year, despite being estimated to reach
Rs 2.2 trillion.

“We have decided to reinstate the Customs Director General, P.S.M. Charles to stop all leakages by reforming Sri Lanka Customs’ two hundred year-old rules, procedures and detection mechanisms,” Minister said.

The Minister described P.S.M. Charles as an ‘iron woman’ who had the courage to go against the LTTE in Eastern Province as a Government Agent.

“Earlier, as a Government, we had the intention to utilise her courageous capacity to track down all customs-related issues.

But unfortunately, the prevailing ‘Customs mafia’ is well above her official capacity. So we, as the State Treasury had decided to appoint her as the Revenue-Monitoring Head of the Ministry of Finance, while nominating a retired Navy official as the Customs Head,” Minister said.

However, Samaraweera said that the Opposition and trade unions have tried to take undue advantage of her official transfer.

The Minister revealed that there was a mafia of big businessmen behind the re-export activities of pepper and areca nut.

“This mafia is using Sri Lanka as a transshipment hub to import Indonesian pepper and arecanut to India by misusing the Iindo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement tariff-free privileges,” he said.

Speaking at the event, P.S.M. Charles said that she had plans to reform Sri Lanka Customs within a short period, while giving a comprehensive report to the Finance Minister.

The Minister also said that the Government intends to reinstate the Customs’ Coast Guard Unit with fully-equipped officers to track down illegal imports to the country, especially drugs coming in along the Chilaw-Mannar coastal belt.

According to the Minister, Sri Lanka Customs’ annual revenue earning capacity is well over Rs 1-1.5 trillion. However, Sri Lanka Customs’ revenue generation has dropped in recent years, mainly due to these illegal imports and related political interference, and the exchange rate crisis. The Minister also said that a new Customs Act would be introduced shortly.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Ishara Gamage)