Thu, 13 Mar 2003

Customs office launches new payment system for imports

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Starting April 1, 2003, all importers will have to pay their customs duties and import taxes via government-appointed banks, a move that is expected to help curb corruption and expedite customs clearance.

To facilitate the new policy, the directorate general of customs and excise signed a cooperation agreement with 45 state- owned and private-owned banks on Wednesday. The banks will have an on-line system with the customs office.

Under the new system, importers will go to one of the appointed banks to make the payment, and the banks would then confirm with the customs office. The importers will no longer need to show the payment receipt to customs officials when they want to clear their imported goods from the customs office.

Under the existing system, importers can either bring cash to pay their fees directly at the customs office or pay via banks but would still need to show the payment receipt.

"Using the online system, we aim to significantly speed up the payment process and curb payment receipts forgery," director general of customs and excise Eddy Abdurrachman told reporters on the sidelines of the signing ceremony.

He said that the old system provided opportunities for bad importers to bribe corrupt officials to understate their import duties and taxes, thus creating huge losses to the state.

"The online system makes it impossible for customs officials to forge documents and to impose illegal fees because payment settlement is processed without any interference from the officials," he said.

Eddy said that the online system was part of the program to reform the customs office to increase its performance as a trade facilitator, revenue collector and community protector.

The customs office had long been regarded as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country.

But Minister of Finance Boediono, who attended the ceremony, said that to reform the customs office, a new system would not be enough because it would all depend on the commitment of the men behind the system.

"It takes two to tango. Along with the customs effort to reform itself, I ask everyone not to cheat with the system. We will need your support and commitment to bring all of us to a better condition," he said in a speech.

Sofyan Wanandi of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) said that businessmen would support the new payment system and the customs office's efforts to curb corrupt practices as it would help boost efficiency and lower the cost of doing business in the country.

"The (new) system should significantly reduce costs and hopefully it will lead to reducing our high cost economy and accelerate the recovery of our economy," he said.

Businesses have often complained about the long procedures involved in the customs clearance process and the customs office failure to curb smuggling and undervaluation practices.

Since early last year, the office has began its reform program in response to the long list of criticisms.

Since Feb. 1, dozens of companies has been allowed to enjoy fast-track import clearance facilities, or what is locally known as "green lane" privileges.

Under this facility, importers are able to clear their goods without undergoing document examinations and physical checks by custom officials.