Ashraf Ali, MCC Quetta

By Ashraf Ali

Pakistan Customs, as a member administration of the World Customs Organization (WCO), has always endeavored to adopt international best practices in discharging its duties for facilitating trade and securing the economic frontiers of the country.

International Customs Day is one such reminder of the commitments made by Pakistan to its business community. The theme of this year’s International Customs Day “Security of the Business Environment-A secure business environment for economic development” is not only relevant to the economic milieu of the country in general but also to the prevalent situation in the area assigned to Model Customs Collectorate, Quetta, in particular.

Needless to say that vast jurisdiction spreads over a vast expanse of the Baluchistan province including border areas of around 930 km with Afghanistan and 731 km with Iran, makes securing the business environment an uphill task which the Collectorate is performing diligently since its inception in 1977.

This year’s theme enshrines security of the business environment from various risks which inter-alia includes infrastructure, system, data, personnel and integrity related security. The MCC Quetta aims to achieve security of business environment through providing an enabling environment by simplifying trade procedures, tackling integrity related issues and facilitating movement of goods across international borders; providing a safe environment like a secure supply chain, protection of health and safety of people, prevention of terrorist financing and prevention of smuggling of contraband goods; and providing a fair environment which will lead to sustainable economic growth by eliminating any intellectual property rights violations, improving governance through combating smuggling and removing any innate risks through enhancing capacity of Customs personnel.

MCC Quetta has already embarked upon an ambitious road map for securing the business environment so that legitimate trade can reap the benefits of trade facilitation while stringent measures are being initiated against violators of the law, whether inside the department or outside.

The Collectorate has already built six new check-posts at Rakhni, Manikhwa, Yaro Karez, Nushki, Kholpur and Lakpas in addition to the existing ones at Nokundi, Dalbandin, Baleli and Mashkhel.

Plans to activate the Custom Houses at Badini and Ghaznali in the border areas, are also at an advanced stage and the same will be made operational by March 31, 2018, with the help of local stakeholders. Land has also been acquired at Ziarat-Cross locality of District Pishin for establishment of a Custom Station that would monitor the movement of goods passing through that location.

Pakistan Customs has also built its own examination yard spreading over 50 acres of land at Taftan and the local revenue authorities have also been approached to allocate another 100 acres of land for establishing a terminal for safe parking of goods laden vehicles. This yard gains added importance in view of the imminent launch of Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) system which would enhance movement of goods through Pakistan without the customary checks.

The infrastructure at Custom House, Chaman has already been improved considerably; however, the launch of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded Integrated Transit Trade Management System (ITTMS) in 2016 at Chaman border aims to establish a container terminal of international standards.

The terminal is slated to be commissioned in four years from the date of commencement. The security of the Custom House, Quetta has also been boosted through establishment of manned pickets and concrete barriers in order to thwart any untoward incident in view of the deteriorating law and order situation of the province.

These check-posts and Custom Houses are befittingly fortified and are being equipped with relevant equipments to make these centers of quick detection of any smuggled or contraband goods. The headquarters has already been requested to provide state of the art scanners, both fixed and mobile, for non-intrusive inspection of suspected consignments.

Such inspections would not only help MCC Quetta comply with the SAFE framework of standards of the WCO but would greatly facilitate the smooth flow of legitimate trade by reducing the cost of doing business. Non-intrusive technology based inspections would help enforce law regarding strategic controls on exports of such goods.

The launch of Customs digital platform by the name of Customs Computerized System (WeBOC) in the Collectorate and installation of digital printing machines at all the Custom Houses of Quetta has made this Collectorate compliant with the international digitization standards for Customs.

The system has enabled the trade to monitor the real time progress of the goods in clearance process and ensured round the clock payment of duties and taxes through Pre-Pact deposit system. Such measures have greatly facilitated import, export and transit of goods passing through the area falling in the jurisdiction of MCC Quetta.

The Collectorate is in the process of expanding the scope and coverage of Customs Computerized System to areas that are still outside its ambit. After necessary approval from the relevant authorities, all consignments coming from Taftan border station would be cleared in the Customs Computerized System. The impact of such coverage on trade facilitation and enhanced security would be immense.

Transparency and improvement in the integrity level of the Customs cfficers and allied bodies would eliminate any overheads involved in the cross border trade. The Collectorate has adopted a zero tolerance approach towards the issue and recent interception of mis-declared consignments and initiation of necessary legal action against the delinquent staff has acted as a deterrent against such malpractices.

A massive growth of 52 percent in revenue in the second quarter of this year is indicative of the usefulness of such steps and the trust reposed by the business community in the policies adopted by MCC Qyetta.

Trade facilitation coupled with risk based controls has resultantly played a role in achieving the revenue collection targets set by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Addressing the border security related issues has always been a priority for the border Collectorates. Coordination with the relevant law enforcement agencies ranks high on the priority list of this formation. Such coordination ranges from policy level contacts at the highest level to joint operations in inaccessible areas. Closer liaison with the law enforcement agencies has greatly addressed the issues of personnel shortages and avoided any duplication of effort. Such efforts have also ensured that any movement of illicit arms and ammunition do not take place across international frontiers.

The flagship development project of Pakistan, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will be passing through the area falling under the jurisdiction of MCC Quetta. The main artery of the western route of the CPEC traverses through this Collectorate commencing from Basima and going to D.I Khan via Surab, Kalat, Quetta, Qilla Saifullah and Zhob. Quetta Customs has already established en-route Customs Station at Manikhwa, Baleli, and land has been acquired at Ziarat Cross while a proposal has been sent to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for replicating the same at Qilla Saifullah, Kalat, Surab and Khuzdar.

The CPEC is expected to greatly enhance the flow of goods which would greatly benefit from the secure business environment being established by Quetta Customs. In order to efficiently handle the flow of cargo through CPEC, Pakistan Custom is in the process of establishing a dedicated Directorate General for the purpose; however, Quetta Customs will continue to assist the relevant authorities till the Directorate General is set up.

Continuous engagement of the stakeholders in the process of reform and clearance practices is a hallmark of the Collectorate which has benefitted both the trade and department immensely. The local trade and customs brokers stay in close contact with all the relevant customs staff. The local chamber of commerce and trade associations are always well represented in the various functions of the Collectorate, which enables both the Customs and trade to exchange views on issues of mutual interest.

The officers of the Quetta Customs are always present in meetings of the Chamber and all out assistance is being extended to the trade for resolution of their genuine demands. The friendly relationship between trade and the department help in sorting out hurdles in the way of smooth flow of legitimate trade.

MCC Quetta is planning to expand the reach of Customs control to inaccessible areas by establishing Customs stations en route, improve the quality of the work through stricter controls, make the Customs processes transparent, expand the scope of non-intrusive inspections, use of technology for speedy clearance of goods, expanding the coverage of the Customs Computerized System (WeBOC) and data based risk management system for providing a secure business environment for sustainable economic development of the country.