Treasury Secretary P. B. Jayasundara has ordered the disbanding of the Customs Revenue Task Force (RTF), after the officers swooped on a group of Maligawatte businessmen reportedly bringing dutiable goods in large quantities, the Sunday Times learns.
The order followed a standoff between the RTF officers and passengers who had arrived on a flight from Chennai. When the officers wanted to check the goods, the passengers had allegedly hurled abuse at them.The directive to disband the unit was conveyed by Customs Director General Neville Gunawardena to the officers attached to the RTF. He told them he had received orders from Dr. Jayasundara to disband the unit.
The RTF is a key unit in the Customs and was involved in carrying out raids and revenue collection.�The RTF, made up of hand-picked experienced officers, on Wednesday detained at least 35 local traders who had arrived from Chennai carrying with them large quantities of textiles, cosmetics, leather products and tobacco-based intoxicants.
The traders had protested against the checks carried out on the items imported and turned violent. The police had arrived at the scene, but no action was taken.
The move prompted the RTF to send reinforcements from Colombo. The officers wanted the items brought to Colombo for further checking as they believed that the goods had been undervalued and the facilities at the airport were not sufficient to carry out the checks.
However, following the intervention of senior officials, the RTF had been ordered to withdraw and the routine checks had been carried out. A Rs. 1.8 million tax was imposed on the items and they were released.On Friday when Customs Director General Gunawardena met RTF officers, they said they had an embarrassing situation.
“If there is interference how can we work with dignity?” one officer asked.Dr. Gunawardena told the Sunday Times that a group of traders had created an unpleasant situation at the airport after they arrived with cargo amounting to commercial quantities.
He said he was compelled to recall the RTF officers following the intervention of higher officials.However, Dr. Gunawardena did not confirm that he had received instructions to close down the unit.But officials present at the meeting confirmed that instructions were given to close down the unit. They are due to be transferred to other units in the Customs.
The RTF annually collects revenue of about Rs. 800 million.
By Chris Kamalendran