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| 04 May, 2017

Lebanon's minister pledges Customs corruption crackdown

Laborers work at a construction site in front of a shipping container area at the port of Beirut November 20, 2012. To match Reuters Summit MIDEAST-SUMMIT/LEBANON-SYRIA  REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Laborers work at a construction site in front of a shipping container area at the port of Beirut November 20, 2012. To match Reuters Summit MIDEAST-SUMMIT/LEBANON-SYRIA REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Private companies and economists have repeatedly urged successive governments to crack down on the rampant corruption at Beirut Port

04 May 2017

BEIRUT: Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil acknowledged Wednesday that there is corruption at Lebanese Customs and pledged to put an end to it.

“I am putting in place a strategy to improve the performance of Customs departments and I pledge that I will replace the current team overseeing the changes if it fails to make a real difference in one year,” Khalil told reporters after touring the Customs department at Beirut Port.

Private companies and economists have repeatedly urged successive governments to crack down on the rampant corruption at Beirut Port, noting that it costs the state more than $1 billion in revenue each year.

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However, these complaints have fallen on deaf ears and the practice has continued with impunity.

The corruption at Beirut Port is one example of massive waste within many government departments and agencies.

Critics insist that if the government were serious about stamping out corruption and waste, it would be able to save billions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

Insiders say that many imported goods are being smuggled through the port without the proper taxes being levied on them.

They added that tax evasion requires the collaboration of at least four to five parties. They include the client and his supplier, the clearance office, the Customs inspector or scout man and his supervisor, as well as other Customs agents.

There is concern that corrupt staff at Customs may be protected by powerful political parties, which may be why the government is unable to crack down on the practice.

The port authorities have installed two giant scanners to screen all the containers delivered to the port, but these scanners have been sabotaged by some of the staff on many occasions.

Bank Audi estimated the size of tax evasion in Lebanon at more than $4 billion a year.

But this estimation was not substantiated by the Finance Ministry.

Khalil said that his ministry has tried to make some changes in the practices of Customs since he took office in 2014.

“It is not logical that all the Lebanese people and the [lobby group] Economic Committees are all wrong and we are right. There is a fuzzy picture and we need to address this problem,” the minister told reporters.

He added that the Higher Council of Customs is determined to follow up on all complaints from citizens and suppliers and will take quick action once it receives these report.

The minister stressed that if the council receives enough support then it can do its job without any attempt to block their efforts.

“If this council fails to carry out its duties for some reason then I or any new minister will ask the Cabinet to replace this body in one year,” Khalil said.

But he expressed confidence in the council, adding that all its members are keen to improve the performance of Customs in a short period.

Asaad al-Tufayli, the head of the Higher Council of Customs, said that the members of the council receive their salaries from the pockets of the Lebanese.

“For this reason the council will be at the service of the Lebanese people and no one else. Bribery cannot come from one side. There are two parties in bribery. The one who offers the bribe and the one who receives it,” Tufayli said.

He urged the citizens who have grievances to email their complaints to the website of the council.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.