Lanka Customs Plans Maximum Penalties on Smugglers

The committee also revealed a surge in the smuggling of gold, mobile phones, and other valuable items over the past three years following import restrictions….reports Asian Lite News

In response to escalating revenue losses, Sri Lanka Customs plans to enforce maximum penalties for individuals smuggling over 100 grams of gold and substantial quantities of restricted items including mobile phones, a spokesman said.

A recent report from the Parliamentary Committee on Ways and Means highlighted a loss of 1.4 billion LKR (Sri Lankan rupees) in recent times, attributing it to discretionary powers granted to customs officers in determining fines for smuggling restricted goods into the country, Xinhua news agency quoted customs media spokesman Sivali Arukgoda as saying on Sunday.

The committee also revealed a surge in the smuggling of gold, mobile phones, and other valuable items over the past three years following import restrictions.

Arukgoda said since June 2023 individuals caught bringing in restricted valuable items could face fines three times the value of the goods or a 100,000 LKR penalty.

As of October 31, customs had collected 760 billion LKR in revenue, with expectations that total customs revenue for the year would surpass 925 billion LKR, Arukgoda said.

The Sri Lankan government set a revenue target of 1,226 billion LKR for 2023.

President’s budget speech

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe presented the 2024 budget of his government with a focus on ensuring that the country doesn’t fall into economic bankruptcy again, Colombo Gazette reported.

Wickremesinghe, who is also the Finance Minister said that advancing a nation requires more than mere fairy tales and Colombo’s difficult times have not ended yet.

He further recalled that the prolonged reliance on ‘election promises’ by political parties has historically led to the economic bankruptcy of the country.

“The economy which was derailed was put back on track. But this achievement alone is not satisfactory. Just by this, we would not feel great relief or comfort. Our difficult times have not ended. The entire country continues to grapple with various hardships in different aspects,” Wickremesinghe said in his budget speech in the Sri Lankan parliament.

He added, “The inflation which was sky rocketed up to 70 per cent in September 2022, declined to 1.5 per cent in October 2023. Foreign reserves increased to USD 3.5 billion from zero. The confidence placed in us by foreign countries was restored. However, we have a long way to go”.

These government employees are currently receiving a Cost of Living Allowance of Rs. 7,800. We propose to increase their Cost of Living Allowance to Rs. 17,800 by Rs. 10,000 from January, 2024.

This increase will be implemented from April, 2024. Rs. 386 billion will be spent on public pensions in 2024.

The Government revenue collected within the first 9 months of the year 2023 is Rs. 215 billion. The shortage is Rs. 168 billion. To meet this shortage, it is compelled to obtain more loans.

While noting that raising the salaries of public sector employees is not the way to go as several state institutions are operating at a loss, the President announced an increase in the Cost-of-Living allowance for public servants from Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR) 7,800 to SLR 17,800 from January 2024, Colombo Gazette reported.

The 2024 budget also allocates funds to improve facilities for tourists, address housing issues in the country, including in the North, and improve domestic cricket.

The Second Reading debate of the Appropriation Bill (Budget) will be held for 7 days from November 14-21, excluding Sundays. Accordingly, the vote on the Second Reading of the budget for the financial year 2024 is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, November 21 at 6:00 pm (local time).

Furthermore, the Committee Stage debate will be held for 19 days from Wednesday, November 22-December 19, excluding Sundays. Accordingly, the vote on the Third Reading of the budget for the financial year 2024 is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, December 13 at 6:00 pm (local time).

According to the Appropriation Act of 2024, the total Government expenditure is approximately at SLR 7,833 billion, out of which SLR 3,861 billion has been allocated for Government service expenditure, Colombo Gazette reported.

Notably, Sri Lanka experienced a massive economic crisis, with skyrocketing inflation and plummeting forex reserves after which International Monetary Fund sanctioned a USD 3 billion bailout to steer the cash-strapped economy out of crisis.

Meanwhile, the next presidential election in Sri Lanka must be called by mid-September of 2024 and be held before the end of November. (with inputs from agencies)

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