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Sri Lanka Customs Enters on 24x7 Operations to Boost Trade ServiceTuesday, April 14, 2015 > 09:28:21
Sri Lanka has embarked on an ambitious round-the-clock-operation of customs clearance to improve efficacy in the service which frequently is considered to be slow due to bureaucratic red tape, lethargy, excessive paperwork, bribe-taking and corruption. The aim is to improve all divisions of the Customs Department to clear import and export cargo within a matter of hours.
The 24×7 operations of the Customs were launched recently along with all other complementary government agencies including Sri Lanka Ports Authority, banks, quarantine section, transporters, etc.
These agencies will have to work 24×7 to synchronize with the extended work hours, officials said, adding that it will reduce transaction time and cost and would help exporters to meet the stringent delivery schedule.
Customs will operate 24-hours for processing import, export and trans-shipment, and it will also take measures to install sophisticated scanning mechanisms at entry points to prevent drugs and smuggling of other harmful substances.
A centralized Cargo Processing Facility has already been established with a view of facilitating the export sector in Sri Lanka.
The new facility is located adjoining the Port Access Road at No.06, Bloemendhal Road, Colombo 13 and will be operational in processing export cargo on a 24×7 basis.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told a packed audience of importers, exporters and officials at a forum recently convened to create awareness on the Customs 24×7 operations that the facility was still not fully used by the trade.
The forum was organized by the import section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce together with the Sri Lanka Customs and Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
Minister Karunanayake noted that the extended hours were aimed at enhancing trade facilitation while reducing traffic congestion in and around in the city of Colombo caused by movement of container carrier vehicles and other cargo vehicles.
“We have brought Singapore (type) access through the Customs extending its services on a round the clock basis but freight forwarders and other stakeholders are not making maximum use of it,” he said adding that “If we are dreaming of Singapore and living in Ethiopia there is no use.”
He said the Customs has to ensure that international trade is not hampered by concerns of time or transaction costs and where it can deliver services with minimal adverse impact on trade activities.
Treasury Secretary Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga revealed that the Customs has upgraded programmes, automation and human resources on par with global trends.
The 24x 7 operations of the Customs will provide an impetus to trade growth and Sri Lanka should be competitive without lagging behind in trading among other countries in the region, he added.
Director General of Sri Lanka Customs Jagath Wijeweera noted that their officers are continuing their work throughout the night but very few importers and exporters were making use of this opportunity at present.
“Our Customs officers are staying awake at night but they will begin to doubt the usefulness of the new system if the trade does not make use of it,” he said.
Additional staff that is required to continue these operations has been redeployed from existing human resources, he said adding that they are also holding meetings with other support agencies to facilitate and ensure 24×7 operations a success.
Export cargo identified as high risk, based on risk assessment will be subjected for examination.
Through this exercise, the Customs expects to provide an expeditious service for the legitimate export sector and thereby significantly reduce the time and cost related to export processing at customs, he said.
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) Chairman Lakdas Panagoda stressed the need to tackle issues arising out of the implementation of the new system considering the numerous benefits from it to the industry.
“We hope to add more banks in addition to Bank of Ceylon, People’s Bank and Sampath Bank to the system to provide prompt service for freight forwarders”, he added.
Dr. Panagoda disclosed that they plan to promote private-public partnerships to re-invigorate operations at Colombo harbour which is an emerging port in the region.
“The Full Container Load (FCL) clearing has to improve especially at the weekends,” Datta Gunasekera, SLPA Director – Technical said adding that the port was keeping its warehouses open at night to support the Customs 24×7 operations.
“Unfortunately, the trade has not been making full use of the system,” he pointed out.
The SLPA had only 186 invoices for cargo clearance from 8.00 pm till morning and this was not so satisfactory, he added.