ISLAMABAD (July 11 2003) : The Federal Tax Ombudsman Justice Saleem Akhtar has asked for close watch on the working of the Chief Accounting Officer of Karachi Customs House for unnecessarily causing harassment in a simple case of refund of small amount.
According to the complainants M/s Argonafits (Pvt) Ltd, Karachi, they had paid in advance Rs 40,968 as light dues for a ship which was to berth at the Karachi Port, but actually berthed at Port bin Qasim, for which they made the necessary payment.
Hence the complainants sought refund of the amount paid erroneously but were forced to move from pillar to post unnecessarily for more than five months.
They claimed refund on February 26,2003 and sent reminders.
In his para wise comments, the Chief Accounts Officer submitted that the amount was paid to the Collector of Customs, Karachi, and transferred to Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) of the Federal Government.
Since it was not a customs duty, the Collector of Customs was not empowered to refund the amount and the complainants were informed to take up the matter with the marine department in its reply.
When the Mercantile Marine Department was contacted, the complainants were told that the customs were empowered to refund the amount and that the refund claim should have been made on prescribed forms to the customs collectorate along with original documents.
At this stage, the CAO stated that the copy of the relevant file was being forwarded to the Collector of Customs and that the complainants were being informed to approach the relevant collectorate.
During hearing, the Managing Director of M/s Argonafits Mohammed Ismail stated when he approached officials of the Accounts department of the customs house he was waved away and no official was willing to take notice of his case.
Sajjad Haider, Assistant Collector of Customs, informed the FTO that when the matter of the pending refund came to his notice, he obtained the refund application and sanctioned the refund on June 7,2003.
It would be paid to him after pre-audit within seven days.
CAO'S MINDSET: The FTO's order said that the first reply of the CAO that the customs department was not empowered to refund the amount and that the complainants should approach the MMD not only betrayed his ignorance of rules and procedures but also reflected the ingrained attitude not to resolve even a minor problem of the people.
The order further stated that in his second reply, the CAO raised four objections that the refund application was not on prescribed form, it should have been submitted at Port Qasim and the relevant authority was the collector of customs (Preventive).
Thus, he again refused to entertain the case of refund.
Thus, the order further observed that the CAO does not seem to be a helpful officer and perhaps not fit for a public dealing office.
If he can be difficult in a very minor refund case, it is not difficult to imagine the serious problems he would create for the public who approach him in a very large number almost daily.
The order appreciated the initiative shown by the young assistant collector who acted promptly and got the refund processed within seven days.
The FTO therefore asked the Chairman CBR to direct the Collector of Customs to keep a very close watch on the working of the COA.