12:00 AM, December 08, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:36 PM, December 19, 2017

Misuse of Tax-free Cars: UN reminds its staff to follow rules strictly

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The United Nations' Bangladesh office has asked its foreign staff to strictly follow the country's laws regarding selling of duty-free vehicles and other durables.

The UN issued the directive after the National Board of Revenue (NBR) in a preliminary probe found that many foreigners, who had been working in different organisations, sold their vehicles and left the country, which deprived Bangladesh revenue.

The UN office in Dhaka issued a memo on the purchase and sale of vehicles and other durables by foreign staff, who enjoy the privilege of importing those items duty-free using their passbook issued by the NBR.

A probe of the NBR found that many cars which were imported under duty-free benefits were missing. Most of those cars were sold to Bangladeshis without paying due taxes, causing the state to lose a huge amount of revenue, said officials of the NBR.

“Too many transports have been imported and a huge amount of duty has been evaded,” said NBR Chairman Md Nojibur Rahman, responding to The Daily Star queries.

Recently, Customs Intelligence under the NBR seized a vehicle from a Bangladeshi who “bought” the vehicle from a foreign official who had worked at an international organisation.

Signed by UN Resident Coordinator Robert D Watkins, the UN Dhaka office issued the memo on Tuesday.

“The memo is issued with a view to further emphasise and remind international staff of the duties and obligations regarding use of the passbook,” it said.

The NBR issues the passbook to foreigners working in Bangladesh under the UN and at international organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, and Islamic Development Bank.

Foreigners working in development organisations such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, and Japan International Cooperation Agency also have the privilege.

They can import food, medicine, a car for personal or family use duty free, according to the NBR.

Referring to a customs order on the purchase and sale of vehicles and durables or semi-durable goods for personal use using the passbook facility, Watkins in the memo said a privileged person must adhere to the rules while selling such goods to any non-privileged organisation or person.

The UN office asked foreign officials under the UN to seek and obtain permission from the NBR after signing sale or purchase agreement between the buyer and the seller. Ensure that all applicable duties and taxes are paid before the sale is completed, said the UN Dhaka office.

The NBR had found that 395 passbooks were not surrendered to the customs, despite expiry of their validity.

Qimiao Fan, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, said their expatriate staff before leaving the World Bank Dhaka office had obtained written permission from the NBR to sell their vehicles to other World Bank group staff.

“This is done in accordance with the national law. Both the NBR and the World Bank have all the necessary documents on file,” said Qimiao Fan.

The World Bank Dhaka office is sending all 36 expired passbooks that were not submitted earlier when the respective expatriate staff left the Dhaka office. None of the passbooks has been used by anyone after the staff had left Bangladesh so there was no misuse of these passbooks, he said.

NBR Chairman Md Nojibur Rahman told The Daily Star, “It will be very unfortunate if those who have come here to take part in the development of Bangladesh deprived us of revenue.” The agencies recommend the issuing of passbooks for its people and that was why the agencies have to take the responsibility for it, he added.

“We want their cooperation and we expect that they will take steps so that the government gets the due revenue,” he said.

He said Bangladeshis, who had bought vehicles from foreigners, should pay all taxes and duties and complete the process of legalising the cars.

The NBR will talk to everyone concerned about the issue in phases, he said.

Meanwhile, Transparency International Bangladesh in a press release yesterday said it was troubled by the news of some former officials of 25 development partners violating laws of the land and depriving the state of its due revenue.

Congratulating the NRB for unveiling the cases, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said it proved that high officials in the development organisations seriously lacked the culture of transparency and accountability.

The TIB asked all to cooperate with the NBR.

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