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All set for Customs Headquarters opening

The Sri Lanka Customs headquarters building at the Chalmers Jetty in Colombo Fort will be opened on July 14 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is also the Minister of Finance.

Customs Director General
Jagath P Wijeweera
Director of Customs BCNP
Samantha Gunasekara
Customs Spokesman Director Leslie Gamini
New Customs Headquarters at No. 40, Main Street on the Chalmers Jetty
The state of the art auditorium

Construction of the 13- storey building commenced in November, 2005 when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Prime Minister. He laid the foundation stone a few days prior to being appointed as President. Leading construction agency Maga partnering with the State Engineering Corporation completed the mega project in May 2012 at a cost of Rs.4.2 billion.

Sri Lanka Customs did not have a permanent office building for many years and was housed in numerous places including the Ports Authority, old Times of Ceylon building and Grindlays Bank building in Fort. In 2005, a land was allocated by the Government on the Chalmers Jetty where the old Chalmers warehouse was situated next to the Chalmers Granary, to build the new headquarters.

Customs spokesman, Director Leslie Gamini told the Sunday Observer, the building is of national importance as it has enabled a vital government institution to bring together its administrative divisions and human resources base, previously scattered across the city to a central location in its 430, 000 sqft floor area spanning 13 floors.

The state- of- the-art modern building with ample office space will bring over 20 directorates of Customs that functioned in various places under one roof. The public can now obtain the services of the Import and Export Divisions, Central Valuation Division, Appeals Division and Consumer Protection Division without any hassle.

It is also convenient for investigating officers to conduct their duties as the main monitoring divisions such as the Central Investigation Division, Central Intelligence Division, Preventive Division, Narcotics Division, Bio Diversity, Cultural and National Heritage Protection Division (BCNP) and Legal Affairs Division are also situated in the same premises.

Sri Lanka Customs has a history of over 200 years as a department since 1809 to 2009. The department was established in 1806 and the first Comptroller General was appointed in 1809 as the organisational head. This title was soon changed to Principal Collector of Customs until 1988 which again was changed to Director General of Customs. The incumbent is Jagath P Wijeweera.

The Customs Museum, a one- of- a- kind place showcasing the Department's long-standing history and exhibiting the samples of various unlawful items detected in the course of time, will also be opened for the public on the same day.

Director of Customs BCNP, Samantha Gunasekara said the concept to set up a museum for the Customs Department was a long felt requirement, especially to educate the public about the role of the Department as well as its history and detections being carried out.

Apart from the 200-year-old history since the setting up of the Sri Lanka Customs Department in June 1806, customs operations dates back to 1000 years to the Maha Parakramabahu king's era, where foreign goods were imported into the country through ancient trading channels like the Silk Route.

Then Sri Lanka was known as Serendib or Taprobane and was a dominant country situated in the maritime trading routes where the Customs was an essential duty to be carried out. Proof of this operation has been found written on ancient stone inscriptions, he said.

Prior to the opening of the Headquarters building, a special Customs Awareness Week has been organised to educate the schoolchildren from July 7 to 12.

The six-day awareness program will educate schoolchildren about many aspects of the Sri Lanka Customs including its history, operations, duties and responsibilities as a state organisation.

School children will be educated on six main topics about the Customs and its operations on each day. On July 7, the history of the Customs will be explained. Although the Customs was institutionalised for over 200 years, the history of taxing and collecting revenue from foreign importers dates back to the First Century AD, according to the Godawaya Inscription in Ambalantota.

On the second day, the Economic Factor of the department including the collection of revenue will be explained. Over 57% of state revenue on taxation is earned by the Customs which will be spent mainly on national infrastructure development work.

The element of social protection will be explained on the third day. Prevention of hazardous material flowing into the country such as narcotics, dangerous drugs and sub standard food etc. will be monitored by the Customs.

Awareness on Trade and Travel Facilitation will be made on the fourth day, how legitimate importers are granted tax concessions as an encouragement and duty relief facilities for tourists such as duty free shops will be explained to students.

The enforcement of law is another important feature that would be explained on the fifth day.

Smuggling and illegal trading is a tactic adopted since ancient times.

It is the responsibility of the Customs to arrest and take legal action against people who smuggle narcotics, jewellery and gold, hazardous material and prohibited wildlife, Fauna and Flora.

Innovation and evolution of the present day Customs will be explained on the final day. Many services like the Customs Declaration (Cusdec) documents have been electronically made to meet the e-systems of the modern day.

The Awareness Week will be held at the Customs Auditorium. Deputy Minister of Finance and Planing Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Customs Director General Jagath P Wijeweera, officials of the Ministry of Finance and Senior Customs officers will be present.

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