TRA acts on cheating importers

The Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) has suspended 'direct release' of imported goods at the port of Dar es Salaam and Inland Container Depots (ICDs) to curb tax evasion by unscrupulous importers.

The move follows the recent impounding by TRA of about 188 containers whose owners attempted to evade taxes through falsification of import information.

So far, taxes amounting to 1.2bn/- have been collected by TRA from some of the 188 containers whose documents were falsified. A total of 500 containers had been physically inspected by TRA officials in a period of one month, out of which 188 were found with various irregularities. Direct release was introduced to reduce congestion of cargo at the port.

"With this notice, please be informed that goods that were initially allowed to go through 'direct release' at the port of Dar es Salaam and ICDs will now be physically inspected.

"Where shortcomings will be found, appropriate legal actions will be taken against the importer and customs clearing agents," the Commissioner for Customs and Excise, Mr Tiagi Masamaki Kabisi, said in a public notice issued on Tuesday.

According to Mr Kabisi, all imported goods will be subjected to physical verification to determine the quantity and nature of goods as well as value and actual taxes that are supposed to be paid.

"Importers and customs clearing agents are hereby urged to provide accurate information to TRA prior to inspection of their goods at the port or ICDs to enable payment of appropriate taxes," read part of the statement.

The commissioner warned of punitive measures against any importer or clearing agent who will be proved to falsify import information or evading payment of taxes.

"Other measures that will be taken may include forfeiture of goods for auction, indefinite suspension of customs clearing licence as well as prosecution in court," the commissioner warned in the notice.

Reacting to contributions from legislators who were debating the Ministry of Finance's budget estimates for 2013/2014 in the National Assembly last week, Finance Minister, Dr William Mgimwa, directed the suspension of direct release of cargo as it created room for tax evasion.

"There were indicators that some importers engage in cheating and we thus decided to conduct physical inspections of cargo at the port. 

"We were also tipped-off by some stakeholders in the industry on the malpractice," TRA's Director of Education and Taxpayer Services, Mr Richard Kayombo, told the 'Daily News' in a telephone interview.

Some importers have been colluding with clearing agents, abused the 'direct release' by evading taxes through false declaration of containerised cargo.

"The importers would indicate on the clearing forms that the containers had goods exempted to pay taxes such as computers and their accessories or mosquito nets while in fact such goods were television sets, fabrics and bicycles, among others," Mr Kayombo revealed.

The suspension, however, will not involve raw materials imported for manufacturing industrial goods, goods for donor funded projects, diplomatic goods as well as government imports. Goods for export processing zones will continue to be inspected at respective factory premises.
Source: The Daily News, reported by Alvar Mwakyusa in Dar es Salaam
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