One of the importers Hassan Kamara expressing his concern to the press
Most shops in central part of Freetown were on Wednesday closed down as a sign of demonstration for the alleged drastic increment in customs duty for imported goods.
Importers claimed there has been a hike in customs tariffs and this happened without any communications stating the reason for the increment. This they claim has resulted in a price increase in every commodity purchased in the shops and even markets.
Shops closed on Abacha Street in Freetown on Wednesday, 16th, 2014.
After several meetings and to get the government understand their situation and see reason to reduce the disputed tariffs, importers have decided to stage a peaceful protest by closing shops.
The Vice President of the Sierra Leone Importers Association Chernor Sankoh said they were shocked when they noticed that the prices have shot up when the new system was introduced at the Customs Duty at the Quay.
He disclosed, before the new system was introduced they used to pay about twenty to thirty million Leones depending on the size and quality of the goods, but this has increased to about fifty to sixty million for clearing.
The Vice President stated that they want the government to intervene in the issues as the problem, includes declaration and customs uplift.
Another issue which was highlighted by Mr Sankoh was that some of their goods are being stolen at the Quay and some even get damaged when the containers are opened for inspection as they don’t use the scanners now.
In a telephone interview with the Corporate Services Manager of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) Mohamed Bangura, he maintained that there has been no increment in price but that there is a change in procedures.
He disclosed that before clearing of goods at the customs, it is mandatory for the importers to produce their invoice containing the price of the purchased goods, or bank transfer of the money spent or even email correspondence from their partners.
He noted that importers most times fail to produce these documents and they normally under value their goods. He cited the instance where the importers will price a Vono Mattress for $2 and a 32 inches coloured plasma TV will be priced at $12.
The NRA Corporate Services Manager stated that the importers are also engaged in mis-classification of goods and also smuggling as sometimes when questioned about the content of the container they will declare that they are importing rice which is duty free but after scanning and checking they will notice that the container has oil which is 20% duty.
Bangura explained further that they have had several meetings with the importers the recent ones being Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th July where they importers agree to these facts but that they pleaded with the Authority to give them six months to clear their remaining goods “but we told them that we can’t since NRA is one of the main income generating revenue for the government and such attitude has led to the drop in revenue generation.”
As the importers decided to stage a peaceful protest and force other shop owners to close they were met with stiff conditions as Police had to intervene to quell the situation with about seven importers arrested.
ASP Musa Bangura who led the Police team said they were informed about the closure of all shops in town but that later in the morning some shop owners called that they were being forced to close their shops. Some of the importers and owners were arrested because they were aggressive therefore Police used three teargas to dispatch the crowd and seven of them were arrested.
ASP stated that if any group wants to stage a protest whether peaceful or otherwise they must inform government within 21 days but they failed to comply.
Meanwhile, this medium had been briefed that the importers have resolved to cancel their strike action and channel their concerns to the appropriate authorities.