KARACHI: The government move to ban import of ‘luxury items’ in a bid to contain the rising import bill to reduce pressure on the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves has put the Pakistanis returning from different countries, mainly those landing at Karachi airport, under a severe stress as the Customs officials have started to implement the fresh curb on the personal items they are bringing along with their luggage like ordinary chocolates, a pair of shoes and cell phones under their use.

The move from the Collectorate of Customs at the Jinnah International Airport was not only shared over the media, but had also been ‘celebrated’ as an achievement as the collectorate decided to write about this to the Member (Customs) of the Federal Board of Revenue.

The letter gives details as to how the Customs officials at the Karachi airport scanned the passengers arriving from the ‘risky destinations’ which leads to seizure of the goods found in their luggage.

“Round the clock vigilance at international arrival terminal resulted in seizures of various items which had been brought in the garb of bona fide passenger baggage,” said the letter from Collectorate of Customs’ at the Jinnah International Airport elaborating its measures against the backdrop of the federal government’s decision.

Miftah clarifies ban on luxury items’ import is to curb smuggling

The letter mentioned the exercise carried out by the Collectorate of Customs at Jinnah International Airport to scan the “entire baggage” of the passengers arriving from “risky destinations” without disclosing the number of people and flights, which had to go through the same check which led to “recovery” of 76-kilogram food stuff, 127-kilogram fruits, 42-kilograms sanitarywares, 213 cell phones and 96 pairs of branded shoes.

The Pakistan Customs move received strong reaction from the people and mainly those who had been scanned in the name of ‘government regulations’ and shared their side of story over social media.

A man claiming to be one of the “victims” shared a receipt handed over to him by the Model Customs Collectorate at the Jinnah International Airport after seizure of his chocolates weighing five kilograms he had brought for his family and friends.

A woman claimed that a cell phone which she was using for more than two years was seized by the Customs official in the name of new regulation.

Apart from criticising the Pakistan Customs move and logic behind creating nuisance for a common man, the people also questioned the effectiveness of the PML-led coalition government’s decision of such “ridiculous actions”.

“Our Customs force making sure the PMLN doesn’t win a single vote from Pakistanis who travel to and from abroad,” commented lawyer and columnist Abdul Moiz Jaferii over twitter while sharing an image of Pakistan Customs receipt to a passenger against seizure of his or her goods.

‘Govt clarifies’

The protests from passengers and strong reaction over social media compelled Finance Minister Miftah Ismail to come up with his point.

“As the government has banned the import of a few non-essential items, we fear that smuggling of these items will increase. Therefore, we have increased enforcement against professional Khaipyas [smugglers]. Officials know who they are. Ordinary citizens bringing in a few items will not be harassed,” he tweeted.

‘Known smugglers’

As mentioned by the finance minister that “officials know who they are”, legal experts question the move at first place to scan all passengers.

Secondly they believe that the spirit of banning the import of luxury items should be implemented on a larger scale and it doesn’t corroborate with the Pakistan Customs’ move to scan ordinary citizens returning their country brining their personal stuff while spending money outside Pakistan.

“The [Pakistan Customs] officials who did all this should be suspended and then an inquiry should be held against them,” said Shahab Imam. “A very argument is that the ban was imposed to stop the flight of US dollars from Pakistan. How can one check a passenger who spends dollars or any foreign currency outside Pakistan? It’s so ridiculous. Secondly the Khaipyas always operate with the connivance of the Pakistan Customs. They can’t do anything on their own. This move is absolutely illegal and an excuse found by the Pakistan Customs for this illegal move is so unreasonable.”

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022

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