Missing containers cost exchequer Rs55bn: FBR

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has reportedly informed the Senate Standing Committee on Finance that as many as 28,802 missing commercial containers under Afghan Transit Trade have caused Rs55 billion revenue loss on account of duties and taxes.

According to a Finance Ministry official, FBR during a briefing on the missing Nato containers informed the committee that based on various inquiries and confirmations made so far, as many as 28,802 commercial Afghan Transit Trade containers and 3,542 non-commercial containers (Nato/Isaf) have been identified as missing defined as their crossing the Pak-Afghan border could not be established and were prima facie, pilfered/smuggled en-route during the period January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2010. The committee headed by Member Taxpayers Audit, who has also been appointed in charge of matters pertaining to recoveries, etc, has submitted eight progress reports to the apex court.

The Senate body was informed that actual quantum and nature of goods smuggled into Pakistan under the garb of Afghan Transit Trade may be much higher, based on declarations made to customs at the time of import. The estimated revenue loss in terms of duties and taxes on commercial containers comes to around Rs. 55 billion, in addition to the loss of revenue on 3,398 containers.

The meeting was informed that show cause notices to importers, clearing agents, border agents and the National Logistics Cell (NLC) with respect to 24,047 commercial containers have been issued and the remaining are being issued. Besides, first information reports (FIRs) are also being lodged for determining criminal liability of the culprits; so far a list of about 580 containers has been forwarded by the probe committee to the Directorate General of Intelligence & Investigation FBR for lodging FIRs against the culprits including customs officials.

The FBR also informed the committee that on directives of the apex court, cases of top eight clearing agents have been referred to the NAB as a first batch, and more cases are being fine-tuned for the purpose. The imports affected by US military are also being reconciled by the probe committee. Data provided by Model Customs and Collectorates Pakistan Automated Customs Computerised System (PaCCS) shows that 157736 containers were imported by the US military for transit to Afghanistan. In PaCCS system, after gate-out from Ports/Terminals at Karachi, the information gets flashed on the screens accessible to border collectorates. It is the responsibility of border collectorates to record the “Gate-in” ie due arrival of cargo at border stations and “Cross-border” events in the system by using the ID assigned to the border collectorates.

Investigation revealed that “gate-in” event of 77,884 containers is missing in PaCCS and “cross-border” event of 95,374 containers is missing. It is improbable that such huge numbers of containers may have gone missing, but failure on the part of relevant customs field formations to ensure proper monitoring and reconciliation through system is glaring. It appears that the computerised system put in place for proper reconciliation of cross-border event of US cargo was totally ignored by the concerned authorities, with the result that a massive exercise is required to reconcile cross-border event of each consignment through manual record.

The meeting was informed that efforts made by the FBR in unravelling the crime and improving the systems have started yielding positive results and study conducted in this regard reveals that as against 71,569 commercial AU containers imported during the period February 2010 to December 2010, the quantum of such imports in the corresponding period of this year has fallen to 28,255 containers, signifying a massive fall by approx. 60%.

Similarly, non-commercial AU imports have also fallen by 39% from 15,061 containers imported during February 2010 to December 25, 2010 to 9,372 containers imported in the corresponding period of this year.

A simultaneous diversion of illegal trade to regular import channels of 15 smuggling prone items has contributed to additional revenue of Rs. 8344 million at import stage (after factoring in the natural growth) during the period of Feb-December 25, 2011. The dividends in the shape of domestic taxes and industrial output gains are in addition to the gains quantified at import stage.