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The Federal Tax Ombudsman, in a suo motu case, has stated that failure of Customs and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) to take action against smuggling and sale of Iranian petroleum products on main roads reflect inefficiency, incompetence and ineptitude in discharge of their duties.

The Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO) has directed Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to constitute a joint task force of Customs and LEAs to control smuggling, transportation and business of Iranian petroleum products throughout Pakistan which is not only causing huge loss to government revenue but is also a constant hazard to life and property of people.

It was found during FTO's investigation that Customs department does no register cases against smugglers and appraisement of goods and vehicles is made much less than their values and settlement proceedings result in release of goods and vehicles used in smuggling on nominal fine.

According to FTO report, during investigation Collectorate MCC Quetta, Gwadar and Directorate I&I have expressed their inability to eradicate the menace by advancing excuse of shortage of manpower and logistics and shifted their responsibility to law enforcement agencies whereas it is the prime responsibility of Customs department to prevent smuggling and seize smuggled goods including petroleum products.

According to FTO report, illegal petrol pumps can be witnessed on main roads in all directions which are visible to everyone but not to Customs authorities and law enforcement agencies. Incident at Hub resulting in loss of 26 lives and 17 being seriously burnt should be an eye opener for law enforcement agencies as well as Customs department as the incident was result of their negligence and irresponsible attitude for which they being responsible are answerable. The plea of police department that department on its own cannot initiate action, has no force as police can take action against illegal act or business.

The FTO, during investigation of this case, observed that chief secretary Balochistan and secretary home & tribal affairs Balochistan despite repeated notices did not respond. Hearing notices issued to them as well as FC also remained un-responded which reflects that the issue, which not only relates to economy of the country but also is serious hazard to human life and property, is not considered important to participate in the proceedings for evolving strategy to curb the menace.

The OGRA ordinance also makes OGRA responsible against failure to take action against illegal and unlicensed petrol pumps and filling points involved in sale of smuggled POL products.

The FTO has recommended to FBR to direct the chief collector, (enforcement) Customs Quetta to constitute a task force consisting of officers/officials of Customs department and LEAs entrusted with anti-smuggling power, to evolve strategy to control smuggling of Iranian POL products. The FBR will take action, both criminal and disciplinary, against individuals involved or connived in smuggling and business of smuggled Iranian POL as per law.

The FBR will request Ministry of Interior to form a dedicated joint task force consisting the FC, Coast Guards, police/levies personnel in each collectorate to conduct joint operations and chalk out a program to undertake joint patrolling by Frontier Corps, Coast Guards and Customs on high risk routes across Pakistan Iran border as well as on major high ways.

The FBR will request the chief secretary Balochistan to issue necessary instructions to the concerned DCOs and police in the province of Balochistan for taking action against persons involved in storage and sale of petrol/HSD, other than licensed petrol pumps, for violating Section 3 of the Petroleum Act, 1934 and Rule 90 of the Petroleum Rules 1937 and direct provincial road transport authorities to revisit fitness certificate issued to all buses and coaches and immediately stop movement of buses fitted with specially designed tanks to smuggle a huge quantity of diesel beneath the passengers, putting lives of hundreds of passengers at risk.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020