Mon, 24 Feb 2003

Customs office boosts inspection at seaports to curb smuggling

Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Directorate General of Customs and Excise has recently intensified its supervision in a number of seaports in a bid to help curb rampant smuggling and corruption.

Director General of Customs and Excise Eddy Abdurrachman told The Jakarta Post on Saturday that his office had assigned more personnel in three ports considered as "hot spots" for smuggling, including the Tanjung Nibung Port on the eastern coast of Sumatra, Pontianak Port in West Kalimantan and Batam Port.

"Due to the lack of supervision in the previous years, the three ports have become a hotbed of smuggling. This year we have sent hundreds of extra personnel to (properly) supervise the ports," said Eddy.

He said that the goods smuggled into the three ports varied.

Batam had been long seen as the gateway for car-smuggling from Singapore, while Pontianak and Tanjung Nibung are known for widespread smuggling of agricultural products and household goods from Malaysia.

Once the illegal goods arrive at the ports, the importers will negotiate a bribe with customs personnel to issue the necessary documents, usually stating that the goods were produced domestically.

Products are then shipped to other ports in Indonesia such as to the international port in Tanjung Priok. The customs office in Tanjung Priok will not conduct an inspection as the containers are "officially" documented as domestic.

Eddy said that for this year, any delivery from the three conventional ports to other areas in Indonesia would undergo a second customs inspection.

He also said that the customs office would intensify monitoring at international ports like the Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Tanjung Perak Port in Surabaya and Belawan Port in Medan.

However, for the three ports the customs would not only focus on smuggling, but also tax fraud practices.

Tax fraud practices include manipulation of import duties and import taxes which have caused the state to suffer an estimated loss of Rp 8 trillion (US$909 million) per year.

To prevent such practices at international ports, the directorate, starting in April this year, will oblige all importers to register their companies with the customs office to make sure they do not use fake identities and addresses.

Many importers have cheated on the self-assessment system by undervaluing their import duties and import taxes before clearing their goods. Customs officials have also taken bribes from importers to make the crime possible.

The importers then pay the artificially low taxes and duties based on their self-assessment reports as a formality to clear their goods.

After claiming their goods, the importers quickly vanish to avoid being charged later by customs officials for underpayment. The customs officials claim to be unable to find them again, as they submitted fake addresses in the first place.