Published at: The Daily Star, February 11, 2019
All the export and import consignments would be scanned before clearance to curb duty evasion, said Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal yesterday.
“We will scan all the import and export items, be that capital machinery, intermediate goods and raw materials,” he said after a meeting with the officials of Customs and VAT department at the premises of the Planning Commission.
Field officials of the department were present at the meeting, also attended by National Board of Revenue Chairman Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and Finance Secretary Abdur Rouf Talukder.
On top of it, 10 percent of the consignments will be physically examined so that human can detect if there is any error by machine, Kamal said.
Currently, customs has a total of seven scanners — including four at the Chittagong port — which can scan 15-20 percent of the import consignments, said a customs official.
Kamal directed the NBR to take measures to procure scanners in the shortest possible time. “We have identified areas from where we are not getting the expected amount of revenue,” he said.
Kamal shared the plan at a time where there are loud allegations of duty dodging through import and export goods.
For instance, $5.9 billion was siphoned out of Bangladesh in 2015 through trade mis-invoicing, said the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI) last month.
Md Shafiul Islam Mohiddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), welcomed the initiative of scanning all the consignment as it will be helpful for honest and compliant businesses.
“It is a good initiative. Bona fide businesses suffer for a handful of criminals who import goods by mis-declaration.”
Bangladesh losses about $2 billion worth businesses annually for delays in clearance of sample fabrics, he said.
“Scanning is also a requirement of many buyers to prevent shipment of harmful items,” the FBCCI chief added.
Mongla port, the Inland Container Depot at Kamlapur and the Benapole land port have one scanner each, said Md Reyadul Islam, second secretary of customs modernisation department of the NBR. Nine more scanners will be procured, he added.
At the meeting, commissioners of the department raised various problems that hinder revenue collection such as inadequate manpower, absence of offices at every district and tariff and VAT waiver given to different sectors.
Revenue collectors also sought clear directive from Kamal on the implementation schedule of VAT Law 2012 and the rate of VAT.
Kamal said the VAT officials would be informed after hearing from the businesses and getting the consent from the prime minister, according to an official who was in the meeting.
The finance minister also cited the low tax-GDP ratio and asked the NBR to take measures to achieve the tax collection target of Tk 296,201 crore.
In the first half of fiscal 2018-19, the NBR managed Tk 98,027 crore, up 6 percent year-on-year, which is the lowest growth rate in recent years.
It missed the target for the period by Tk 28,000 crore.
At the meeting, revenue officials also said collection of huge amounts of revenue has got stuck owing to cases pending at the courts.
Kamal underscored the issue and said steps would be taken to discourage filing cases with ill motives.
“We have a tendency to go to the court even if there is no ground. Anyone can go to the court to seek justice. But how will we attain our revenue collection goal if we all go to court?”
Currently, a taxpayer has to pay 10 percent of the claimed tax by revenue officials for appealing to the commissioner of VAT.
If the taxpayer goes to the Appellate Tribunal against the commissioner’s verdict, he/she will have to deposit 10 percent of the claimed money, according to VAT law. The taxpayer would get his deposited amount back along with interest if the government losses in the case, Kamal said.