Customs set back $4M due to Pandemic Barrel Relief programme, Comptroller says

Comptroller of Customs Raju Boddu. (Photo by the Customs and Excise Division)
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By Latrishka Thomas

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The Pandemic Barrel Initiative is slowly coming to an end, and according to Comptroller of Customs Raju Boddu, the Customs and Excise Division has lost about $4 million over the last 16 months as a result of the programme.

“We would have lost about $4 million so far in taxes because of the programme … what we would have collected is about $700,000 in terms of revenue recovery charge and fees,” he told state media yesterday.

Nevertheless, Boddu said that he is satisfied because the programme provided relief for many residents.

“I really don’t regret that in this very critical time the government stepped up and we really worked together with the policy of helping the needy and also to mitigate, if not all, part of the hardships,” he shared.

The pandemic relief barrel programme – similar to the Christmas Dollar Barrel Initiative -was introduced last year to give residents the opportunity to import food, clothing, toiletries and personal hygiene products for a nominal fee of $10 per barrel.

The consignees were also exempted from paying Customs duties and the Antigua Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST).

The Covid-19 relief programme had been extended on several occasions over the past few months. However, Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced over the weekend that there will be no further extensions after July 31.

By Tuesday, July 13, 19,147 barrels had been cleared under the programme, but residents have until July 31 to make use of the initiative, primarily because some residents have exploited the programme, Browne stated.

For example, Boddu disclosed that weapons had been found in some of the barrels.

“It’s not that we did not find, we found. You see people want everything to be out, but normal Customs operations, when we intercept, the police would know and they will take legal action to really prosecute those people. That is, we found drugs, we found firearms and ammunition,” he revealed.

Meanwhile, the Comptroller of Customs disclosed the government’s decision to close the duty-free concession window has benefitted the division.

“The policy has been adhered to during the Covid times and now also. Actually, our exemptions have gone down by 30 percent. If that was not done, we would have not even collected this kind of money,” Boddu indicated.

He said that the only groups that were excepted from that decision were “number one, [those] inscribed in the law, number two, your regional and multi-lateral agreements like Caricom and all that…where there are schemes like manufacturers…and Antigua Barbuda Investment projects.”

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