Friday, February 15, 2008

Encounters with the Sri Lanka Administrative Service - II

The company I work for had overpaid customs duty on an import. The error was discovered (a misclassification of the cargo) after the goods were cleared. The sum involved was substantial - about a quarter of the company's annual profits.

Initially I just searched the Customs website and contacted a couple of senior officials, Director or of similar rank, and told them my problem. Too bad was the answer. There is nothing we can do. Spoke to several people, received the same answer.

Not keen to give up I spoke to a friend and asked him if he knew someone. He had a friend, a middle ranking officer, I called him and went over to meet him.

He explained to me that there was such a thing as a procedure for refunds, obtained for us the relevant forms and told us what documents were needed (many- including affidavits, letters from suppliers, etc). All were duly filled and submitted. My friends friend promised to help speed up the matter.

I called the contact person every so often to inquire on progress. He told me it had been sent to the Audit department to verify the facts and that it was difficult for him to inquire into matters once they were in audit. I was busy with work, so for a month or two did not call. When I called eventually, some 5 months after the application was submitted (I spoke to the clerk handling the matter) and found that he had been transferred.

Worried, I went over to customs, our contcact gave me the name of the new man in charge. Went up, he was'nt in, spoke to someone else there, he claimed he knew nothing of the matter. Waited around for about half an hour before the man walked in. After some confusion, the file was located. He looked and said a 'certificate of payment' was required.

A certificate of payment is a document issued by the Accounts Department of the customs certifying that payments (duties etc) have been made to customs. This is despite us attaching an original receipt, issued by the customs themselves, acknowledging payment.

I know better than to argue so I ask them how to get this document. I need to go to the Accounts Department (of the customs) located on the 6th floor, with the original reciept (actually the Assessment Notice, overprinted with the details of money received) and speak to them. First problem - original document is in the file with our application and the guy does'nt want us to remove it. Since we know someone in customs he reluctantly gives it to us and also gets us a photocopy.

I take the documents and go to the ACcounts, they say you need to bring a letter from the company requesting the certificate. Not carrying letterheads and rubber stamps with me, so I go back to the Refunds Branch (4th floor), return the original document and go back to the company to get the letter. Its about 1pm and I know better than to expect the guys to be working in the afternoon, and in anycase have had as much hassle as I can take for a day so I decide to take the letter the next day.

I go back the next day armed with the letter. The guy I met is missing but luckily the peon remembers me so he introduces me to another drone. Drone tells me you can't get such a certificate. I say I was asked to. He says ok but won't release the original document. I convince him to and he does, but gets me to sign on the back of the file to say I took it. I run to the Accounts on the 6th floor and ask for the certificate. The guys says I need to pay 150/- at the cashiers on the 3rd floor. The lifts serve either 2,4, 6 or 3,5 so there is sometimes no direct lift to the floor required, but this is not a serious issue for fit young fellow, god help the elderly.

I run to the cashier. Big crowd, but no queue. Force my way in and say I need to pay for a certificate. Cashier asks me for a voucher? What voucher? You've got to get a voucher from the relevant department telling the cashier to accept money.

Back upto the 6th floor, the guy gives me the voucher and I fill it out. Back to the 3rd floor, bigger crowd this time, manage to worm through. I hand over the money and the voucher plus the documents. One guy writes a receipt, another stamps the documents and I get them back. Back upto the 6th floor where the big-wig looks at my letter and says the title is not complete - but allows me to correct it in pen. Hurrah!

He looks at the two documents, (original plus photocopy)and asks me to give it to the first guy I met in accounts. The first guy takes it and I ask when I will get the certificate. May take a week or two he says, we need to write to the bank and they need to confirm the payment. I ask for his name-he gives it to me but says he does'nt have a contact no., so I need to follow up in a week or so. All for a confirmation of a payment, when I have submitted an original receipt!

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