Government working to improve key customs services
Kabul, October 18, 2004 (from RFE/RL) â€“ On 16 October, USAID presented the Finance Ministry with the keys to 15 new patrol trucks and three new minibuses. The gift is the second consignment of patrol vehicles given to the customs service by the U.S. government agency in the past six months. USAID also provided 20 pickup trucks last April.
Deputy Finance Minister Jelani Popal says the April gift gave customs agents the mobility to stop truck drivers from Pakistan who were avoiding customs taxes at the Torkham border crossing in eastern Afghanistan.
As a result, he says many more drivers now pass legally through customs houses and pay their required duties on items like textiles and livestock. He says coordination also has been enhanced at the Torkham crossing with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and with local officials from Jalalabad.
But Popal admits that increased law enforcement along the eastern transport corridor has caused some smugglers to avoid that route and, instead, enter Afghanistan at the southeastern corridor passing through Paktia Province. For that reason, Popal says many of the new patrol vehicles will be sent to customs agents in the southeastern cities of Gardez and Khost.
Popal says an additional gift of more than 30 patrol vehicles that is expected in the near future will be used to stop smugglers along other transport corridors -- notably, the southwestern route from Pakistan near Spin Boldak, the western route from Iran that passes through Herat, and northern transit routes near the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Konduz.
Popal also says that by increasing the amount of customs duties that go to the central government, warlords will be deprived of a source of income used to pay their illegal militias.
Popal told RFE/RL that budget revenues for the central government already are increasing dramatically as a result of a better-organized customs service.
"We were predicting the increase in revenues in the coming one or two years. But since last year, what has happened has been a drastic increase noticed in the revenue of this country. In 1381, which is our calendar year [for 2002-2003], that revenue was $70 million. Last year, it was $209 million. This year, our target is $309 million. In five years, we have to have $1.5 billion of domestic revenues in this country to meet our ordinary budget and some of our development needs," Popal said.
The latest gift from USAID also includes 4,000 new uniforms for customs agents at Kabul International Airport, the Kabul customs house and at provincial customs centers around the country. Those uniforms will make customs officers easily identifiable to truck drivers and traders who transport goods into Afghanistan.