Customs Bill-2019

Admin cadre, customs face off over magistracy power for customs

Jasim Uddin | Published: 00:21, Feb 25,2020


Bangladesh Administrative Service Association, an organisation of Bangladesh Civil Service (administration) cadre officials, has opposed a provision in the Customs Bill-2019 that empowers customs officials with magistracy power.

The BASA has claimed that the provision in the bill is contradictory with the Supreme Court verdict on separation of judiciary from the executive in 2007.

The bill, placed before parliament on September 11, 2019 and was at the parliamentary standing committee on finance for further scrutiny, proposes conferring the power of first-class executive magistrate on customs officials for the purpose of entry, search, seizure and arrest for violation of the provisions in the bill.

The committee, headed by Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, on Sunday finalised its recommendations giving magistracy power to customs.

The bill will now be placed before the parliament for passage.

BCS Customs and VAT Association said that the conferring of magistracy power on customs officials was not a new thing; rather it had been in place in the Customs Act-1969 since 2000.

Officials from both administration and customs cadres told New Age that they presented their arguments before the parliamentary standing committee on finance for consideration.

The committee on October 31 last year in its third meeting heard the arguments of both sides and decided to consult with the law minister on the issue before giving its opinion.

BASA president Helal Uddin Ahmed, also senior secretary to the Local Government Division, last week told New Age that there was no problem empowering government officials with magistracy power before the separation of judiciary.

But after the separation, the Code of Criminal Procedure clearly says that there will be only two types of magistrates — judicial and executive — and the executive magistrates will be appointed only from the BCS (administration) cadre.

‘So, there is no scope for conferring magistracy power on any other cadres after the separation of judiciary,’ he said.

He also said that the provision would not sustain if anyone challenged it in court.

The BASA expressed its reservation about the provision, he said.

BCS Customs and VAT Association secretary general Syed Mushfequr Rahman told New Age that the provision was not new for customs as customs officials had the authority to enter, search, seize and arrest under the Customs Act-1969 since 2000. The National Board of Revenue has only extracted the provision from the existing law, he said.

‘The law ministry has also conducted vetting to see whether the provision is contradictory with the constitution, other existing laws and regulations and find it befitting,’ he said.

Even cabinet also approved the draft of the new law and then it was placed before parliament, he said, adding that it would not be wise to bring any major amendments to it in this final stage.  NBR officials, including members of the board, at the meeting said that the power would be exercised only to handle the offences related to the customs act.

Such power should remain in place to conduct instant search, they said, adding that otherwise it would not be possible to check customs-related offences, including duty evasion, trade-based money laundering and misuse of customs bond facility.

Officials said that Helal and Mushfequr also attended the meeting and presented arguments for their respective sides.

According to the meeting minutes, committee chairman Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali asked Helal why they did not raise any objection when the cabinet approved the draft with the provision.

He replied that the issue then did not come to their attention.

The committee also sought opinion from additional district magistrate of Dhaka, representatives from the Cabinet Division and National Parliament Secretariat.

They also opined that the provision was contradictory with the separation of judiciary.

Financial Institutions Division senior secretary Md Ashadul Islam opined that the bill could confer the authority to enter, search and take other necessary steps on customs officials without magistracy power.

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