DEPUTIES DON'T GO ON THE IDEA TO SET UP CUSTOMS POLICE
The MPs didn't go on the Government's idea to set up something like a customs police at the end of its mandate. As the BANKER weekly has already written, the Council of Ministers has recently moved to Parliament a draft bill to amend the Customs Act in its section on the subsequent control over imports. The proposed changes stipulate that customs officers should be granted rights to search and seal offices of firms, collect written evidence from witnesses, and gather proof under the Criminal Procedure Code. Officers from the Subsequent Control department of the Customs Agency had to be entrusted with those competences.As could be expected, deputies from almost all parliamentary represented political forces objected to the Government's draft during its hearing at first reading on Tuesday (April 19). Although the bill on amendments to the Customs Act was formally supported by 75 votes (with a quorum of about twenty MPs), the debate was not at all to the advantage of the Cabinet's ideas. The question which the deputies asked most frequently was how pertinently it was to assign to the customs officers functions, innate to the judiciary (investigation service and prosecutor's office). According to the report, presented by the head of the Budget Commission, Nina Radeva, the draft bill on amendments to the Customs Act does not make it clear if structural changes in the Customs Agency would be made necessary after its promulgation. It does not specify either what administrative act customs officers will issue if they find undeclared liabilities to the budget when making subsequent inspections.The MP from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Mihail Mikov was the sharpest one in his criticism. In his words, the proposed expansion of the customs officers' competences till practically result in doubling their operation with those of criminal policemen from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and of investigators. Mr. Mikov asked if the Internal Ministry has a stance on the proposed new texts of the Customs Act. However, no official stance was received from the ministry. The deputy from the BSP voiced doubts that the fulfilment of police functions on the part of customs officers was in accord with the regulations of the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.Moreover, the MPs did not like the draft stipulation that subsequent import revision may possibly end with the signing of a settlement between traders and customs authorities. They also did not like the proposal for making the revisions last from two to six months during which the judicial control over the actions of the customs officials will be minimum. According to the MPs, there will be a serious danger that companies inconvenient for the authorities may have their business blocked.Valentin Vassilev from the parliamentary group of the Union of Democratic Forces asked why the amendments to the Customs Act were only discussed at the end of the present Government's mandate. He said that the rulers aimed at demonstrating activity before April 25 when an EU partners inspection begins on how Bulgaria implements its commitments under the Customs Union Chapter. According to the blue MP, the present Parliament does not have technological time in which the texts of the draft on the subsequent customs control can be cleared of the existing legal misconceptions. In turn, Ramadan Atalay from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms insisted that clauses be prepared to ensure that traders will not become victims of administrative arbitrary act on the part of the inspecting customs officials. According to Mr. Atalay, there are too many articles and paragraphs in the Bulgarian legislation that allow the state bodies to close offices and impose other security measures on the contrary to regulations that may stimulate businessmen to be correct taxpayers.The fears of the MPs were partly dispelled by the Customs Agency Director Assen Assenov. He reminded them of the fact that the subsequent control was legally regulated in Bulgaria back in 1998 but had almost not been applied. However, after Bulgaria joins the EU the inspections will logically be moved from the borders to the interior. What is more, only 10% of the goods entering the country are inspected carefully at the cross-border stations.