Customs authority on the cards to curb smuggling, says PM aide

Updated October 18, 2019

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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review and control smuggling. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan Facebook page
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review and control smuggling. — Photo courtesy Imran Khan Facebook page

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to establish a customs authority and develop a data bank to collect information about smuggling and similar mechanisms in order to curb inflow of non-duty paid items into the country.

The decision was taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday while chairing a high-level meeting to review and control smuggling.

Briefing the media after the meeting, Special Assistant to the PM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said that the data bank would be developed with input from all agencies and departments in districts that were former Federally Administered Tribal Areas and bordering areas of Balochistan.

Dr Awan said that the current system worked in isolation and all the relevant departments operated in silos without any coordination — possibly reluctant to share information with each other.

“Almost everybody from coastguard which patrols the coast line to the customs department, civil and military intelligence agencies, etc, did not share their information and records with one another, with the result that effective control of smuggling was not possible,” she added.

Chaired by Imran, meeting was informed that Pakistan suffers an annual loss of $6.94bn due to smuggling

“We are set to reduce human interaction at the maximum level and all departments posted at the borders and smuggling- prone areas will provide their input to the central pool,” Ms Awan said, adding that “we are moving towards automation —this is the modern approach”.

The prime minister was briefed on the measures taken to discourage smuggling and other modes of illegal trade and implement best practice already in place around the world, in the country.

She said PM Khan had also granted approval for establishment of the customs authority to end the misuse of power within the customs department.

“The system currently is that all the cases are settled at lower level either to impose penalties or not even for the confiscated goods; this Customs Directorate will be transformed into an authority and relevant stakeholders and departments would remain in close coordination with this authority,” she added.

The central pool, too would be established under the customs authority.

She described the move as the only serious effort made in the country’s history to curb illegal trade and smuggling and said that smuggling was like termite to economic growth of the country.

The special assistant said that the move was expected to bring confidence among the investors, including legal importers and industrialists, as the grey economy would be capped to a large extent.

The meeting was informed that Pakistan faced annual loss of around $6.94 billion, including $3.47bn in terms of revenue loss due to smuggling, but the real impact on the economy was much higher as local production became costly while cheaper smuggled products were sold in the market.

“This has led to de-industrialisation in the country over the years,” she said and highlighted that the prime minister had taken up the issue of smuggling with the provinces and the army a few months earlier.

The committee was informed that a 56 per cent increase in revenue collection had been observed by the customs department as strict measures had been taken to control smuggling.

The meeting was attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Interior Minister retired Brig Ejaz Ahmed Shah, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and senior officials of the relevant departments.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019