CUSTOMS TAKE UP BOASTING AGAIN
The customs office announced the amount of revenues collected from customs and excise duties, value-added tax, interests, fines, etc., for the first nine months of 2003, while the Finance Minister Milen Velchev and his deputy Krassimir Katev were paying a visit to Washington. In the US capital, they negotiated with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the parametres of Bulgaria's 2004 budget. As it is well known, the talks are concentrated on the amount of the budget deficit. The IMF experts will hardly miss the chance to doubt once again the ability of Bulgarian administration to collect all revenues stipulated by the State's financial plan. The IMF Resident Representative to Bulgaria, Mr. James Rolf, already said that Bulgarian statistics did not always reflect the real data. Still, objective or not, these figures show that the customs contribution to the budget revenues for September alone reaches BGN271,576,427, up BGN47,511,494 from the same month of 2002.For the first nine months of 2003, customs officers reported revenues amounting to BGN2,286,747. Of them BGN165,465,311 came from duties, which are expected to provide BGN180MN for the whole year. Thanks to VAT on the import (which since January 2003 has been collected by the customs and not by the tax authorities), the budget has received slightly over BGN2BN. In order to meet the annual requirements of the Finance Ministry, customs still have to collect BGN55MN.Excise duties seem to have brought the best results. BGN109,436,897 has already been collected which goes beyond the expected BGN103MN. According to financial analysts, the result is mostly due to the increased fuel import in September. Compared to the same period of 2002, the growth of customs revenues amounts to BGN360.8MN (18.7%).The record set by the customs does not seem so impressive, however, if compared to the growth of import, Plamen Minev, head of the customs during the UDF ruling, said.According to information from the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) about the balance of payment, import has grown by BGN1.611BN from January to July 2003 (42% higher than growth in the same period of 2002). However, the customs office has its own explanation of the situation. According to the announcement made by the customs press service, the bigger import amounts result from the fact that importers already pay duties on prices close to the real ones. Strange, then, why do Bulgarian producers keep protesting against the import of commodities at lower prices mostly from Turkey and China? The Chairman of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bozhidar Bozhinov recently told journalists that the insufficient control on the Bulgarian-Turkish border has caused the bankruptcy of more than 1,000 Bulgarian companies.The former customs director Emil Dimitrov, however, claims that the customs results move within the limits set by the Finance Ministry.In 2003, the customs officers are expected to collect BGN2.8BN, which is just BGN100MN more than the 2002 revenues. If customs revenues reach BGN3BN by end-December, this will be a good achievement, Emil Dimitrov added, even though it will be a far cry from the mythical 96% growth promised by the rulers in the end of 2001, when the agreement with Crown Agents was signed. Whatever comments the managers of the Bulgarian customs provoke, they certainly have adopted successful tactics. Achievements are made public in a suitable manner, and whenever rumours appear about smuggling routes and illegal relations with criminal bosses, the managers start writing their next strategy to fight illegal import. Meantime, an interdepartment commission is established or an internal disciplinary inspection is appointed.Hardly anyone in the customs remembers today that amidst the so-called yacht scandal, that burst forth in May 2003, Premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had personally assigned the Internal Minister Georgi Petkanov and the Finance Minister Milen Velchev the task to work out concrete measures to fight smuggling. And the Head of the Agency for Financial Investigation Vassil Kirov, reported in front of the Parliamentary Commission on Internal Security and Public Order about the presence of five big contraband channels in Bulgaria, through which attempts for laundering huge amounts of money are made. But only small fish are caught. There are sufficient examples about that. A joint inspection of the Internal Ministry and the customs established that in the course of several months as much as 174 TIR-trucks with cargo of the notorious Nikolay Metodiev, nicknamed the Chicken passed the Koulata border check-point during the shift of one and the same customs officer - Angel Angelov. From the five TIR-trucks detained in July alone, loaded with Chinese goods but declared at the border crossing as building materials, the Chicken would have a profit of about BGN250,000, experts point out. For these lapses Mr. Angelov has only been moved from Koulata to the adminsitration of the Kalotina customs office. Investigations are currently going on to establish if he acted as an accessory to the Chicken, the Customs Agency Director Assen Assenov said for the BANKER weekly. Konstantin Karatodorov and Dimiter Alexiev, customs officers from the Danube Bridge border crossing have been prevetively moved to another check-point after in the beginning of September they were found with foreign currency in cigarette boxes. Customs executives explained the gentle sanction saying that it was not known for certain if the cash was intended for them.Things are vague also regarding Chavdar Kanev, head of Iliyantsi, and the head of the Sofia Airport customs Boryana Emilova. Information appeared in mass media that both of them figured in a report of the Internal Ministry from the spring of 2003 due to their connections with smugglers, and in inquiry was appointed by the Customs Agency. For a sixth month now Mr. Kanev and Ms. Emilova are on unpaid leave and the results from the investigation have not been announced. Of course, the customs are not staying idle. They demonstrate efforts for intercepting customs frauds. In addition to making a list of 114 firms that have not been prompt payers to the budget, Mr. Assenov and his team are preparing structural changes. The Customs Investigation and Intelligence Administration is projected to be divided into two independent units. This, in the words of the Customs Agency Director, will allow the employees to specialize and concentrate their efforts on one of the two activities and will also lead to differentiation of the responsibilities for the prevention of customs violations. There is logics for such a change, experts say, especially if the rights for investigation, stipulated by the Customs Act, are increased. Soon an analytical unit will be established in the Customs Agency that will be summerizing the incoming information and drafting risky profiles. On these grounds the firms to be investigated will be selected. Although with a certain delay the Internal Audit Directorate will begin operations under the supervision of consultants from Crown Agents.