Officials bribed to allow smuggling
JALALABAD (PAN): Customs officials are bribed daily to allow handcarts bringing commercial goods of an uncertain value and quantity into Afghanistan from Pakistan without import duty being paid at the country's largest Torkham dry port, merchants and hoteliers alleged on Thursday.
Staff at the Torkham customs office admitted irregularities, but at a limited scale, insisting they were making progress in controlling smuggling from Pakistan into the eastern province of Nangarhar and central Afghanistan, including Kabul.
But Ziaratullah, who runs a food shop on this side of the border, told Pajhwok Afghan News a lot of trade goods were allowed to enter the country from the Pakistani side without any taxes being paid. He accused Afghan customs officials of granting the permission in return for bribe money.
The goods are transported on the Torkham-Jalalabad Highway to the Jalalabad city and further to Kabul and other central and eastern provinces, the shop owner said.
"The customs officials are involved because the goods are easily smuggled into this side in handcarts that play the main role in the saga. Handcarts ought to be used for carrying luggage of travelers ," Ziaratullah commented.
He continued the illegally imported trade goods, after their entry, were being taken to vehicles awaiting the delivery for its supply onward.
A merchant in the Torkham bazaar, Tafasirul Rahman, said a huge quantity of mobile phones, medicines, alcohol and other products were smuggled by bribing customs staff responsible for screening imports.
He alleged customs officials involved had hired services of money-changers who had to fix the deal with importers. However, he did not identify any.
Pakistan has started a bus service to Jalalabad called "Pak-Afghan Friendship." A Pakistani bus cleaner, who declined to be named, revealed his vehicle had a large box hidden beneath in the backside. "We smuggle only mobiles and medicine in the box," the cleaner confessed.
With few pharmaceutical producing companies of its own, Afghanistan heavily relies on imports of medicines from Pakistan, Iran, China and India.
The government says it monitors quality, but doctors say imports are increasingly expired or have no effect, are sold by unqualified and illiterate shop staff, and often cause further sickness or even death.
"I don't know about others how much they pay, but we pay 10,000 rupees or even less to Afghan customs officials to allow us to go ahead," the Pakistani said.
He said customs officials told him they had to pass on a major portion of the bribe money to their seniors. "We don't pocket it all," he quoted customs officials as telling him.
But the cleaner quickly got down to business after the bus driver, his senior, stopped him angrily from talking on the topic to this reporter, who caught red-handed an uniformed custom guard receiving Rs300 from a handcar-owner. When asked why did he take the money, the official refused to explain.
After continued efforts that lasted four weeks, Pajhwok was able on Thursday to enter a discussion with the Torkham Customs in-charge, Nisar Ahmad.
Ahmad said he would not rule out corruption in the department, but it has been on a low level. Ahmad insisted rigorous customs checks and quality control mechanisms existed at the dry port. He claimed 13 percent increase in revenue of the customs department during the ongoing Afghan year, compared to previous years.
"I admit there is corruption that we are trying to overcome. But it takes place so secretly that one can't easy prevent it from happening.
He cited the lack of space at the Torkham customs office as a major reason that made secret deals possible because customs officials had to hurry in the face of countless vehicles to check.
Ahmad's explanation comes days after public order police confiscated a vehicle in the Behsud district for what they charged carrying untaxed goods.
A public order police commander in the Samarkhel area, Mohammad Ailmal Mujadidi, claimed dozens of vehicles were seen daily carrying commercial goods for which import duty had not been paid. He also accused the Torkham customs officials of being involved.
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