MULTAN: Importers of South Punjab have shown grave concerns over blackmailing of shipping lines and their agents in connivance with terminal operators and certain corrupt officials who are breaching set procedure and laws by charging unfair demurrage and detention charges from genuine importers.
It was stated by Former President of Multan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Khawaja Jalaluddin Roomi on recent Rs 15 billion scam revealed by Customs Today of shipping lines and agents through involvement of Customs officials.
It is pertinent to mention here that various importers have filed 13 applications to lodge FIRs against these shipping lines and their agents including Deputy MD of Greenpak Abdul Rauf, CEO of United Marine Agency Sohail Shams, COO PICT Khurram Aziz Khan and chairman Marine Group Capt. Haleem Siddiqui who was once director of PICT, for blackmailing importers and demanding additional demmurage and detention charges.
Sohail Shams, CEO United Marine Agency
Khawaja Jalaluddin Roomi said that shipping and ports industry is playing a crucial role in the national economy for sustaining growth in trade and commerce. He expressed that shipping industry has ability to connect national trade and influence all the corners of the world but ‘we received frequent complaints of importers regarding bribery and professional misconduct from Customs department in handling import shipments’.
He said many emerging countries have weak import and export licensing and other regulatory requirements that lack transparency making the movement of goods in and out of those countries time-consuming, burdensome, and costly. But we have appropriate laws to overcome blackmailing of shipping lines and their agents who are harassing and blackmailing importers for taking additional demurrage and detention charges as bribe. They should face punishment under Customs Act and SRO 1220(I)/ 2015.
Haleem Siddiqui, Chairman Marine Group
Roomi added that according to SRO 1220(I)/ 2015 and important Section 14A of the Customs Act, 1969, officials cannot charge any demurrage or detention charges on their import shipments if Customs has already issued delay and detention certificate to importer. But due to weak execution of Customs law, blackmailers are getting full benefit of it and they are freely demanding bribe from importers
He said this situation happened especially in ‘high-risk’ countries where local officials may be considerably underpaid and where corruption is routine practice of Customs employees for the smooth clearance. When importers pay bribe to those fraudulent officials of Customs in order to ‘facilitate’ or ‘expedite’ the import and export shipments, it will put negative impact on the country’s growth in trade and commerce.
He said genuine importers are forced to pay kickbacks for clearance of their shipments due to negative behaviour of few notorious Customs Officials and they are responsible for defaming whole Customs department.
He termed additional charges by terminal operators and Customs officials as extortion charges which importers compelled to pay for detention and demurrage for their shipments to authorities and ‘we need to implement uniform clearance procedure for all importers’. Terminal operators are illegally charging detention and demurrage charges to genuine importers along with few hidden charges.
He suggested that government should modify demurrage policies after ascertaining actual market situation to encourage and attract genuine importers and exporters in current business scenario. ‘We need to frame a uniform and sound policy for the future to eradicate corruption and malpractice to promote trade in the country. Government should execute policies that bound the shipping companies and terminal operators to follow the set Customs laws strictly for the timely delivery of import shipments’, he concluded.