Highest Level Corruption with overwhelming evidence exposed

RESTORATING THE PRIDE OF THE CUSTOMS ADMINISTRATION

(January 09, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) 1. The government and people of this country are well aware of the deterioration of the law and order within the Customs Administration, particularly at the highest levels, causing tremendous losses of revenue to the government.

2. In this background, we, Sri Lanka Independent Government Trade Union Organization – Sri Lanka Customs, consider it is proper to bring to your notice the following, which require appropriate action to bring the wrongdoers at all levels to book, restoring the confidence of committed officers in the Department. We are extremely concerned about the lack of vision and lawlessness prevailing in the Customs that have been the root cause for generating a bad image in the eyes of the government and the general public. It is apparent that the public confidence can only be restored and the government revenue going down the drain could only be saved by addressing these issues decisively.

3. To cut short a lengthy discussion we refer below to, two Customs cases that demonstrate widespread corruption from top to bottom, lawlessness and lack of vision within the department in a nutshell.

Unwarranted interference of ZAM Jazeel, the Duputy DGC and the Legal Advisor in the foreign exchange fraud concerning the Habib Bank

4. This case was detected by a team of officers attached to the ADP Division on 30th December 2010 and the Manager, Habib bank was taken into custody. This is one of the massive foreign exchange frauds ever detected and runs into over billions of rupees where money has been sent out of the country on account of non-existing imports by the bank.

5. When the suspect bank manager was arrested and due to be produced before the Court, ZAM Jazeel interfered and misguided the DGC to release the suspect on the basis that there was no violation concerning the Customs Law. When the investigating officers urged the DGC to give the release order in writing the DGC, who is clearly with no law enforcement experience, declined to do so, claiming that it was a decision made by Jazeel, the Legal Advisor. When the officers insisted that Jazeel’s order should be made in writing Jazeel was summoned to the DGC’s office and was asked to give the release order in writing. Jazeel at this moment went back on his original advice to the DGC and informed the DGC that he needed at least 4 hours to study the matter further and to give his ruling in writing.

6. By this time the suspect had been in the custody for over 20 hours and it was apparent that Jazeel knew the fact that on completion of 24 hours the suspect had to be automatically released, in the absence of a remand order from the Magistrate’s Court. We are of the firm view that it was a deliberate act of betrayal on the part of Jazeel [probably the only legal advisor in the Govt service with no legal qualifications at all] who is under duty to protect the interests of the Customs.

7. This appalling state of affairs cornered the inexperienced DGC who was forced to seek AG’s advice on the matter. Immediately a meeting was arranged on the same day with the AG with the participation of the DGC, Jazeel, and the investigating officers. The AG totally refuted with Jazeel’s stand and advised the suspect to be produced before the Magistrate and put him in the remand custody. This was affected just before the expiry of the mandatory 24 – hour period by the investigating officers.

8. The committed officers of the Customs are flabbergasted as to how this so-called ‘legal advisor’ was allowed to occupy this prestigious, all important post causing tremendous losses in govt revenue running into billions. It is a known fact that Jazeel has no legal qualifications whatsoever yet he is allowed to carry on with no interruption at all. We have managed to trace an important confidential document [copy attached] submitted to DGC by Deputy DGC Dr Neville Goonawardana on 19th May 2010 complaining about the improper conduct of Jazeel and Tharaka Seneviratne, Director of Customs. This document alleges that both these officers are in the act of taking bribes from the fraudster elements.

Jazeel’s interference in the case of Lucky Asia Pvt Ltd [Case No: D/INV/2009/256] & D/INV/2009/286]

9. This case too vividly illustrates Jazeel’s unbecoming conduct as a senior Customs Official who is paid by public funds but serves the interests of revenue fraudsters.

10. The shipments referred to, in this case were seized on 03rd Sep 2009 further to credible information received by the DC [CCED], Dr Neville Gunawardhana on 24th Aug 2009. The confidential report dated 19th May 2010 [copy attached] submitted to the DGC by Dr Goonawardana, alleges that ZAM Jazeel and Tharaka Senevirathna are involved in this organised revenue fraud committed by an influential importer, namely Lucky Asia [Pvt] Ltd. The informant in this case had precisely provided the details of the fraud, even before the arrival of the contraband at the port of Colombo.

Modus Operandi of the fraud

11. The modus operandi adopted in this well executed fraud is, as follows;

12. As per the information provided [copy enclosed] the suspect company and several other companies are given safe passage through Customs by the officers namely ZAM Jazeel Jazeel, Tharaka Senevirathna, SKSH Wijesiri [ASC] and 6 others] to import goods that attract heavy duties, and also duties at unit rate. These officers are alleged to use their office to detain the goods related to the organised fraud, at the time of arrival. This is done to ensure that no other enforcement arm of the Customs would interfere with the shipments imported by these companies. After detaining the goods the importers declare the goods that apply normal duties only and clear the heavy dutiable goods undeclared with the help of Jazeel and other officers.

13. A large number of such shipments had been ‘facilitated’ by these officers over a considerable period of time. The two cases referred to herein are classic examples for the magnitude of the fraud which has been draining the govt revenue in an unprecedented scale. After receiving the information Dr Goonawardana kept the DGC, SACSW Jayathilake, informed of the modus aparandi of the fraud and the alleged connivance of Jazeel and Tharaka Seneviratna with the importers involved. And the further action concerning the fraud was initiated with the approval of the DGC.

14. Seizure notice for the detention of the containers [copy attached] was issued to Ports Authority on the initiative of Dr Goonawardna on 03rd Sep 2009. The ship carrying the containers arrived at the port of Colombo on 09th Sep 2009. Herein it is observed that the importer was making an application on 07th Sep 2009 [even before the arrival of the goods] seeking permission to re-export the goods that draw higher rates of Customs duties. It is apparent that he had made this application direct to Jazeel most likely under Jazeel’s own advice. The importer should have addressed the letter to the DGC who is vested with power to allow re-shipments under the Ordinance. But in this instance Jazeel had acted usurping the powers of the DGC and had allowed the shipment application .

15. After the seizure of the goods, the contents were examined on 28th Sep 2009 and the Customs duty on the heavy duty articles found in the containers was ascertained as follows.

Duty on shoes [at unit rate] Rs 13,500,000.00
Duty on gas lighters [at unit rate] Rs. 5,700,000.00

16. This case also brings to light the improper conduct of DGC, SACSW Jayathilake who was well aware of the serious allegations of wrongdoing against Jazeel, Tharaka Seneviratne and Wijesiri [ASC] and yet allowed all three men to actively engage in the investigation formalities as follows.

17. The examination of the seized goods was carried out by SKSH Wijesiri [ASC] and the examination report was submitted to Tharaka Senewirathna [DDC]. He in turn reported to Jazeel with his recommendations allowing the importer to abandon the goods that attracted heavy duties running into over 19 million rupees and to clear the rest of the consignment. By the time Tharaka Senewirathna made his recommendation on 30th Sep 2009, Jazeel had already given permission to reship the goods referred to in paragraph 15 above. It is quite clear that if not for the detection initiated by Dr Goonawardana, there would not have been any issue of reshipment and the entire shipment would have entered the market defrauding customs duty of over 19 million rupees.

18. It is observed that actions by Jazeel, Tharaka Senewirathna and Wijesiri were quite irregular and unlawful for the following reasons.

1. The decision to allow the importer to abandon the goods that attracted higher rate of duty taken by Tharaka Senewirathna was approved by ZAM Jazeel and the decision to re-export the same was also taken by him on his own with no approval from the DGC.

2. Both these officers had been accused and reported to the DGC by Dr Goonewardana [presently the Director General - Trade and Tariff, Treasury] for their connivance in the very same fraud.

3. Total duty payable on the goods re-shipped was Rs 19,200,000.00 and under the law no such reshipment is permitted unless 1/10 of the total duty is paid [i.e. Rs. 1,920.000.00]. And in this case the re-shipment had been allowed by Jazeel in contravention of the Section 22[2] of the Customs Ordinance.

Adverse effects of the inaction by the DGC SACSW Jayathilake

1. Despite the fact that Dr Goonawardana had urged the DGC SACSW Jayathilake to cause investigations into the matter and to take appropriate action against those officers involved in the fraud the DGC [ref his report to DGC], the DGC SACSW Jayathilake had failed in his duty resulting in the following.

o No proper investigation was carried out to ascertain the total number of shipments imported by the same importer adopting the same process, prior to the intervention by the deputy DGC Dr Goonewardana

o Identification of the goods which were actually imported in the previous occasions

o Identification of the officers involved in the examinations and release of the previous shipments

o Failure to recover at least the 1/10 of the duty on the goods re-shipped under pretext of Section 22 [2] of the Customs Ordinance by ZAM Jazeel

o Failure to establish the total revenue loss incurred due to this mass scale smuggling operation

o Setting up of a bad precedence of not taking any disciplinary action against the officers in authority who were involved in high profile frauds

o Sending a wrong message encouraging wrongdoing

We demand integrity in the Customs Service

We, as a Trade Union, a body devoted to regain the lost image and integrity of the Customs, demand stern action against all the officers involved in the above two cases. We urge them to be subjected to due process under the law setting an example to the entire Customs service.

W.M. R.P Widekoon

Hon General Secretary

Sri Lanka Independent Government Trade Union Organization – Sri Lanka Customs
Copies to: 1. The Secretary to HE the President
2. Commissioner General – Bribery and Corruption Commission
3. The Director – Presidential Task Force
4. Peoples’ watchdog – The Print and Electronic media

Source:
www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/01/customs-highest-level-corruption-with.html

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Nation building efforts launched by the President effectively derailed by the dishonest ST PB Jayasundara

Petition to the President Mahinda Rajapaksa

 

by W.M.R.P. Wijekoon
General Secretary, Sri Lanka Independent Government Trade Union Organisation,Sri Lanka Customs

(November 19, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sir, in response to your clarion call to all Lankan professionals living abroad to return and serve the motherland, we understand that Mr N Kodituwakku, the former head of the Customs Revenue Task Force who is now a solicitor practicing in the UK, returned to Sri Lanka further to a telephone interview had with you. It is known fact in the Customs circles that Mr Kodituwakku was a unique character, and highly regarded for his uncompromising stance, integrity and loyalty in the protection of the government revenue.

We are aware that he had been offered an interview with you wherein Mr Kodituwakku had briefed you about the circumstances under which he had left the country in September 2001 when Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunaga held the office of the President and Dr PB Jayasundara held the office of the ST. The life threatening circumstances under which Mr Kodituwakku left the country was vividly presented by a group of MPs on 09th October 2010, in the Parliament, just two weeks after his exit, wherein a serious allegations were levelled against the President Chandrika Kumaratunga, ST PB Jayasundara and the then DGC for betraying Mr Kodituwakku and forcing him to leave under death threats [a copy of the relevant proceedings enclosed].

We are aware that sometime after been left the country, Mr Kodituwakku had requested overseas leave, which had been refused by the then DGC Mr Sarath Jayathilake although the same DGC had allowed similar requests for overseas leave by some other officers made from abroad. We noted that in Kodituwakku’s case the DGC Mr Jayathilake had exploited the situation to his advantage and issued a vacation of post notice on Mr Kodituwakku, effectively bringing an end to his unparalleled record in the Customs Service.

We are aware that further to the interview he had at the temple trees, you had immediately directed the ST Dr PB Jayasundara to take required steps to ensure resumption of duties by Mr Kodituwakku and directed Mr Kodituwakku to meet the ST, who is however, ill-disposed towards Mr Kodituwakku for the reasons set out below.

We are aware that Dr PB Jayasundara did not want to allow Mr Kodituwakku to resume duties despite your recommendations and he only offered Mr Kodituwakku retirement from the public service as had already recommended by the formed DGC Sarath Jayathilake, further to Mr Kodituwakku’s previous appeal to the PSC, seeking permission to resume duties.

Since then Mr Kodituwakku had made several attempts to have an appointment with you and having all such attempts, he had now returned to his adopted country [the UK] and dispatched a letter to you [with copies sent to the Sri Lanka Customs Trade Union] explaining reasons as to why ST Dr PB Jayasundara declined to comply with your directive and disallowed his offer to resume duties in the Customs.

In order to make our submissions plain and clear we quote the following extracts taken from his letter addressed to you dated 13th Nov 2010.

“…However, since I returned to Sri Lanka honouring your call, I believe that it is my duty to brief you as to why the ST PB Jayasundara declined to comply with your directions. I thought it is my duty keep you informed of the relevant facts in this regard, because I perceive that you may disagree with ST’s prejudicial attitude against me…”


“… In my capacity as a Customs Inquiry officer I have found that in number of fraud inquires the conduct of ST Dr Jayasundara was unacceptable and amounted to abuse of office of the ST. I have set out below two cases, which I dealt with where I found Dr Jayasundara’s conduct was entirely unbecoming of a public officer holding a high office in the Executive…”

Case 1

“… In this case the Koggala Beach Hotel was charged for a fraudulent transaction where the company had sold 4 duty free permits issued to import luxury vehicles to be used in the Tourist Industry. The company had abused the privilege and had sold all four permits [3 to the Finance Company and 1 to Arjuna Ranatunga] to import the vehicles defrauding the government revenue. This case was presented before me and I dealt the General Manager, Koggala Beach Hotel and the Finance Company as required by law imposing a fine of over 7 million rupees for knowingly concerned in defrauding the government revenue…”


“… However, when the hearing of Ranatunga case [Case No:CRTF/04/2001] was due, as a result of direct interference of the Reggie Ranatuga, then a Cabinet Minister, and the President Chandrika Kumaratunga I was subjected to tremendous pressure by the ST PB Jayasundara through the then DGC Mr Janak Guranrathne. I was ordered to abandon the inquiry proceedings against Ranatunga altogether. I had to decline their unlawful directive as I was under duty to observe the rule of law. In fact it was my duty to treat every person charged before me equally, disregarding unlawful interferences…”


“… In this case, the pressure brought on me was such that I had to conduct the said inquiry having completely lost the pleasure of the ST Dr PB Jayasundara and the DGC Mr Gunarathne for defying their unlawful orders. Yet, I had the required will and firmness to meet out justice as required by law and to impose over four million rupees [Rs 4,198,255.00] on Ranatunga, which was determined on the value of the vehicle imported against the duty free permit and the amount of revenue defrauded by the unlawful importation of the luxury Benz car [Reg 65-3583] defrauding the government revenue…”


“… The said inquiry was held on 06th Sep 2001 and due to unprecedented pressure and threats to my life posed by those who were concerned in the said fraud I had to leave the country with my family just two weeks after finding Ranatunga in the wrong. It was a disgraceful act on the part of the ST and the President that after I had left the country, the inquiry record was called at the Treasury and the penalty imposed at the inquiry was nullified by abusing the Executive Power …”

Case 2

“… This particular case refers to the abuse of innocent customers by leading ‘renowned’ business enterprises in Sri Lanka who import inferior and substandard consumer goods – some electrical appliances imported by them were found to have been with heath and safety risks – from third world nations. These goods were imported at a very nominal value declared to Customs and cleared on payment of a nominal duty…”


“… These goods were later sold in the open market to the innocent buyers at an exorbitant price under the pretext those goods were original products imported from manufactures in Japan and in some cases from Europe. Trade description of these goods, such as the brand names and the country of origin displayed in the product and the packing were manifestly false. The wrongful act committed by the so-called renowned business establishments was amount to violation of the provisions of the Code of Intellectual Property Act and hence chargeable under the provisions of the Customs Law. Series of such cases were presented before me by the officers of the Customs Revenue Task Force, which were dealt with according to law, with penalties and forfeitures imposed on the wrongdoers involved …”


“… The powerful business enterprises involved were clearly displeased with the firm stand taken against them by me. Yet they refused to challenge the orders made against them in the Court of law. Instead they lobbied against me to the ST Dr Jayasundara. The ST, as customary, took the side of the wrongdoers and resorted to summon me at the meeting held at the Treasury, at which all affected business community were also present. At the said meeting, despite the fact I submitted to him that the right forum to decide the issues raised would be the Court of Law, the ST Dr Jayasundara abusing his authority harassed me in the presence of the powerful business community. The matter did not end there. The ST had the audacity to direct the DGC to refund all the penalties recovered from the wrongdoers who were found guilty for the violation of the provisions of the Code of Intellectual Property Act…”


“… Based on the said evidence I can vouch that ST, Dr Jayasundara is a dishonest official whose only concern was to facilitate the fraudster elements, some time under the pretext of ignorance of the law and procedure. He was always totally indifferent with the difficult role the Customs Inquiring officers played under trying circumstances, particularly in cases where powerful and influential fraudster elements involved. Under the Customs Law, inquiry proceeding conducted by the inquiry officers are deemed judicial and they are under duty to observe rule of law, rules of evidence and to comply with the principals of natural justice.


I must mention that in the two cases referred to above my relations with the ST, Dr Jayasundara became very sour as I had refused to compromise with his unlawful orders given to protect the interests of the fraudster elements…”


“… Now, I understand that justice had been done for the ST Dr Jayasundara by the Supreme Court and he had been found guilty for his fraudulent conduct and abusing his office, with a heavy fine of Rs 500,000.00 imposed on him and prohibition from taking any appointment in the Public Service…”

Public confidence in the Customs severely damaged

There are so many other cases where the ST Dr Jayasunara had been found concerned in defending fraudster elements. The Colombo Dockyard revenue fraud case where the public funds to the tune of over 619 million rupees had been misappropriated by the Colombo Dockyard Company is the best example. In this case, he directed the DGC not to enforce the penal sanctions provided by the Customs Ordinance against the Dockyard Ltd. The ST’s improper action that opened floodgates to government revenue fraudsters is now challenged before the Supreme Court [SC/536/2010] where he is cited as the main Respondent in the case.


Surreptitious actions to immune from liability

Sir, we are fully aware of the drastic actions being designed by the ST Dr Jayasundara against the public interests but to protect the interests of high profile organised fraudsters (including the Colombo Dockyard) who are responsible for robbing billions of public funds. These actions, surreptitiously designed by the ST, include across the board general amnesty to all high profile organised fraudster elements and would invariably receive the approval of the lawmakers in the upcoming budge, absolving them from of the criminal liability before any Court in Sri Lanka. The right-thinking taxpayers who obey their statutory obligations and always play their part would naturally perceive these drawbacks as a slap on their face.

We also aware that some of the drastic actions designed to taken through the budget include severe curtailment of law enforcement actions under the Customs Ordinance, probably removing enforcement provisions and the provisions provided by law to reward the informants and the fraud investigators. These actions designed against the public interests would effectively clip the wings of the frauds investigators and would only strengthen the hands of the fraudster elements.

Customs destined to fail without a right political will

Hon’ Sir, we firmly believe that you would now appreciate as to why the Executive should have honoured the Supreme Court order that ruled that Dr PB Jayasundara should not be allowed to hold any public office and the great dangers faced by the Country for defying the Supreme Court ruling by retaining dishonest people in the calibre of Dr PB Jayasundara in the Executive that not only hinder the Nation building efforts launched under your leadership but also would be perceived by the right thinking people in this country as a insult to their intelligence, as such actions are deemed abuse of peoples’ Executive power with a scant respect to the peoples’ sovereignty.

Need of the hour

Hon’ Sir, having placed the aforementioned information before you, as the Sri Lanka Freedom party Trade Union of the Sri Lanka Customs, we honestly believe that it is suffice to understand true character of the twofaced ST and as to why he declined to give effect to your directive and refused to recall Mr Kodituwakku to the active service. We believe that in the eyes of the right thinking people, particularly in an era where the image of the Customs Department is badly tarnished and needs an overall change, this incidence of refusal of services offered by the former head of the Customs Revenue Task Force Mr Kodituwakku by the ST, would be considered not only as a miscarriage of justice but also as an encouragement to the acute lawlessness rampant in the Department of Customs.

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Rs 619 million rupee Dockyardgate scandal – Three high ranking Customs men caught pants down

In our previous exposures of the above we reproduced the Attorney General’s opinion given to the Director General of Customs on 10-05-2010 which carried a warning that the AG would withdraw the action pending before the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal ruling favoring the Colombo Dockyard Ltd. This is despite the fact the company had already conceded guilt by making a special deposit of 95 million rupees with Customs, to apply against the final determination of the Customs inquiry that was pending against the Company.

 Now we draw your watchful eye to the three dodgy minutes made on the AG’s letter [10-05-2010] by three of the most senior Customs men, one being the Deputy Director General [Enforcement] ZAM Jazeel and the other, the Director [Preventive] Thilak Perera, on 31-05-2010 and the final minute dated 23-06-2010 by Deputy Director of Customs Lalitha Weerasinghe, sealing the fate of the Dockyard scandal. You would observe that all these Customs men have totally dismissed the minute made by the OIC of the Customs Legal Affairs Unit, condemning the AG’s dodgy opinion which was clear deviation of his own opinion expressed to the DGC on 04-11-2009.

 Three minutes by these Customs men, clearly demonstrate the surreptitious and hurried action taken by them to shut the case abruptly with no knowledge or consent of the new DGC Mrs Karunarathna. By then the new DGC had just taken over the office of the DGC from Sarath Jayathilake who had been involved in this scandal for a period of over 10 years.

 It is evident from the minute made on the AG’s letter by the OIC Legal affairs, addressed to the Deputy DGC ZAM Jazeel that the AG, at the meeting held at the AG’s office on 04-11-2009, had advised the Customs to proceed with the Customs inquiry since the Court of Appeal ruling favoring the Colombo Dockyard Ltd does not preclude the holding of the Customs inquiry. Connivance of the ZAM Jazeel in the Dockyard scandal is clearly evident to any watchful eye, from his own admission by his minute on the  AG’s letter. He simply concedes that he had failed to take any action to resume the Customs inquiry for a 6-month period since AG’s advice given on 04-11-2009 and hence order all officials down the line to close the case as per the AG’s irrational advice given to DGC on 10-05-2010.

 However, with the appointment of Mrs S Karunarathna to the office of the DGC the tide has completely changed. She had taken a firm stand on this issue, challenging the dodgy opinion expressed by the AG Mohan Peiris to shut the case. Her decision also cancelled the improper action taken by the three Customs men, whose conduct suggest their apparent collusion in this day light robbery committed by the Colombo Dockyard Ltd.  The Customs insiders believe that these three men had acted on the advice of the former DGC Jajathilake who had missed the opportunity to close the case before his sudden removal, solely due to the fact that the original case record had gone missing and could not be traced.

 The new DGC’s letter sent to AG on 03- 08-2010 [see the image of the letter shown separately] demonstrates her stand that clearly goes against AG’s advice. Her stand is based on the consideration of the colossal revenue loss incurred by the government and also based on the sudden deviation of the AG’s own stand since his original opinion dated 04-11-2009. The new DGC had plainly informed the AG that the withdrawal of the Supreme Court action at this stage is inappropriate.

 Now the concerned officers in the Customs are carefully monitoring what action would be taken against the three customs men against whom charges on corruption is looming for abuse of office for defrauding the government revenue. Their improper conduct also warrant dismissal from the Customs Service under the provisions of the  of the Customs Ordinance [Section 137], and corruption charges under the Bribery and Corruption law.

 Last Sunday, the print media [Sunday Leader] exposed the Secretary to the Treasury [ST] Dr Jayasundara’s double stand in this case, which is seen as an abuse of office of the ST by Dr Jayasundara to accommodate a revenue fraudster. Further to the media exposure of AG’s double standard in this scandalous affair and DGC’s firm stand notified to the AG to go ahead with the Dockyard Court action,    we can reveal that Dr Jayasundara had summoned the DGC and a team of Customs officials involved in the case, and severely reprimanded them to comply with the AG’s advice and not pursue Court action against the Colombo Dockyard. However, the ST PB Jayasundara, who had learnt lessons from previous Court orders made against him with harsh penalties and strictures, that followed by his removal from the public service, had taken necessary precautionary measures not to give anything in writing confirming his dodgy directive to the DGC. 

 In this background, we can reveal that the Customs Officers Union has come forward to protect the interests of the Customs and the DGC. The union members have called upon the DGC Mrs Karunarathna to take proper action to safeguard the office of the DGC by taking the wrongdoers to task, irrespective of their positions held in the Customs Service. They have also urged the DGC to call for a written confirmation from the ST of his verbal directive given to abandon the Court action initiated against the Colombo Dockyard Ltd. The letter by the trade union, an image which is reproduced here, urges that such an action is a necessity as the directive given by the ST is not in the best interests of the protection of the government revenue.

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DGC’s firm stand against AG’s irrational opinion [03-08-2010]

DGC’s firm stand against AG’s irrational opinion [03-08-2010]

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AG’s letter to DGC with irrational opinon [10-05-2010]

AG’s letter to DGC with an irrational opinion [10-05-2010]

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Dodgy minutes by three key Customs men on AG’s letter [10-05-2010]

Minutes on the AG’s letter – page 2  [10-05-2010]

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WORD OF ADVICE TO NEWLY APPOINTED DGC SUDHARMA KARUNARATHNA

We are extremely sorry to say that since your appointment to the office of the DGC nothing tangible has been achieved in arresting the prevailing lawlessness in the service and bring a noticeable change. The holders of the key positions that control the process of import and export trade, continue their grip unabated in the same manner they did it in the past decade under former DGC Jayathilake. Please note that their allegiance is still with their mentor Jayathilake, whose sworn allegiance had been with the fraudster elements and not with the Government.

In the circumstances we sense a possible danger posed by these highly placed Customs men who have been resorting to mislead you in a very discreet manner since the ‘Day One’ of your appointment. It is quite natural that they would get the maximum opportunity from your inexperience in dealing with an extremely sensitive and complex organization like Customs to tarnish your name.

Therefore, we warn you to be extremely diligent in all your interactions with these elements and use your intellect and experience to identify them at every turn. At the same time, we thought it proper to assist you to identify your priorities in the unique responsibility vested in you by the President. It is absolutely up to you to take notice of our word of advice or reject it altogether, but we believe that in the name of the Nation whose lifeline depends on the performance of the Customs, the saner counsel will prevail.

Try to win the hearts and minds of the officers before anything else and the ground realities in the era we live in

 In the first place don’t be prejudiced that Customs Officers are absolutely corrupt, which is not the case. Remember that we live in an era where the Nation is ruled by bribery and corruption and the Government revenue agencies like Customs, Inland Revenue and Excise are not exceptions. Yet, please note that the Customs is probably the only organization where you get some officers with high degree of integrity.

The personnel serving in the Customs represent various professional fields. They include, senior SLAS men, doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants, teachers, school principals, and officers from armed forces so on and so forth. It is a known fact that professionals belong to these categories level fierce criticism against Customs when they are not in the Customs service, but once they join the Customs they transform into a completely different lot with a totally different mind set. The past history indicates that the SLAS lot joining the Customs for a 3-year stint is the worst amongst them. They come with T20 mind set to accumulate wealth to the maximum by unlawful means during their short stay.

The above mentioned attitude of the senior officials of the Customs compels them to compromise with the politico-legal-business mafia in robbing the lifeline of the Nation. It is quite natural that in any organization when the top gets corrupt the middle order and the grassroots tend to follow suit. Therefore the corruption and malpractices in the Customs are to be understood on the basis of these ground realities.

The DGC is therefore should not antagonize the staff by taking ad-hoc administrative decisions. The first thing is to win the hearts and minds of entire Customs Service and make them aware of the great responsibility shouldered by them as the members of the leading revenue collector of the government. Dealing with the wrongdoers should not be done in a haphazard manner and the process should be a well thought out strategy that covers the department from the top to grassroots level and not from grassroots.

Be a successful team leader

Remember that ‘I am the boss and the boss is always right’ attitude would lead you no where as far as the Customs service is concerned. Be diplomatic in your approach and try to transform the attitude of the officers, which of course is an uphill task. This will take sometime but be firm and meaningful in your approach at all times.

You may encourage the officers by demonstrating that you are not prejudiced. Always encourage the officers to shun the bad habit of robbing public funds which would take them nowhere at the end of their life, except a fearful death for the sins committed against the humanity. Now it is your turn to motivate the officers by affording them an opportunity [on regular basis if possible] to come out with their grievances which had been denied throughout by the former DGC Jayathilake. This form of approach would naturally bring realities to light and will have a lasting impact on the officers to be honest in their primary duty once their issues are addressed. 

Use your authority to bring the evidence of large scale abuses to light

The big-time corruption in the Customs is known to every body. Quite seriously you may be the only exception as at the moment. We doubt whether the senior officers who are close to you would ever reveal about big-time frauds, simply because their own involvement in such cases. Therefore one way of winning hearts and minds of the middle level officers and the grassroots level is to assure them that you are going to take firm action irrespective of positions held by the wrongdoers.

For instance, the Customs headquarter building project became a gold mine for former DGC Jayathilake and his accomplices like Deputy DGC D Jayaratne. This J&J combine completely removed the second floor meant for the car park from the project plan. Please get your accountants [especially those who are responsible for approving payments for the new building project] to reveal the facts with confidence so that the magnitude of this fraud could be brought to lime light. [That was the very reason as to why Jayathilake pleaded with the ST not to remove his Deputy Jayarathne from the office of the Deputy DGC].

The next two dangerous characters are the so-called legal advisor ZAM Jazeel [please note that this man has no legal qualifications whatsoever] and Director Tilak Perera who singlehandedly dealt with most important revenue fraud inquiries that denied the government hundreds of millions of revenue. We will make sure that you see for yourself the damages caused by these two with their dodgy minutes and orders made in the inquiry records. Our honest advice to you is to be extra cautious when you deal with these elements keeping them at arms-length.

Take measures for the safe keeping of customs inquiry records

It is also a known fact that most of the high profile case records have gone missing. And this has been happening over the last few decades. People talk about these files ending up in the possession of fraudster elements themselves. So far during Jayathilake’s this criminal act came to a peak point but he did not make any move towards introducing a strategy for safekeeping of case records. The disappearance of the case record of the Colombo Dockyard revenue fraud handled by Director Tilak Perera is a shining example to this unpardonable offence. We therefore urge you to make a fool-proof methodology to secure all case records and hold the inquiry officers responsible for the safe keeping of the case records. A directive may be issued to all officers who conduct prosecution to have a copy record for their reference purposes.

 Don’t be hesitant to defend your officers when they refuse to compromise with fraudster elements

You can learn a lot, from some of your predecessors like Mr WDL Perera [DGC 1999-2001] and SMJ Senarathna [DGC 1996-1999] who had established their names in the service through sheer commitment to uphold the office of the DGC. Unlike the condemned Jayathilake who was a disgrace to entire Customs service, those officials had the will to refuse illegal orders, directives and warnings came from the above. Their conduct always provided the necessary inspiration to committed officers and it was a privilege for the officers to have worked under them as they decisively defended the officers who did the right thing.

Remember, that the primary sources that bring pressure on you are the Ministers, the ST and the Attorney General. Yet, in the interest of the country and for your own interest, you must have guts to refuse any improper order that affect the government revenue and demoralize the officers who perform an extremely difficult job under trying circumstances. 

You should know by now that bringing about change in the Customs is not an easy task. This cannot be simply achieved by simply removing a crook like Jayathilake as the ST Jayasundara thinks. According to ST’s belief demonstrated at the recently held conference, which you and many of us attended, when the office of the DGC is replaced with a person with good character [pointing the finger towards you] there will be a trickle-down effect making all the personnel from 4 Deputies downward good characters. What he implied from his statement was that Jayathilake was dishonest and therefore the entire Customs service became corrupt, which is not the case at all as explained above.

Be pragmatic in your approach and we wish you total success in all your endeavors to fight corruption and protect Government revenue.

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