SIx Hundred Containers Uncleared

SIx Hundred Containers Uncleared

A fresh dispute between Sri Lanka Customs and the Treasury concerning the Customs reward fund has resulted in a trade union action, causing a halt to operations at the Colombo Port, with over 600 containers affected.

The conflict arose after the Treasury notified Sri Lanka Customs on Thursday of its decision to transfer the balance of the Reward Fund, currently under the Customs Director General, to the Finance Ministry.


Customs officials are adamant that the Reward Fund should remain under the Director General’s control, citing its utilization for overtime payments, training, and rewarding officials for detections and tip-offs. They argue that if the fund falls under the Finance Ministry’s jurisdiction, delays in payments could demotivate them.

However, a senior Finance Ministry official cited an International Monetary Fund program consolidating funds from 14 institutions under the Finance Ministry. Accordingly, Customs funds should also come under Finance Ministry oversight. The Customs was offered the option of retaining Rs 100 million in the Reward Fund while transferring the remainder to the Finance Ministry, with assurances of prompt payments.

The current fund exceeds Rs 700 million, with interest accruing.

J.G.A. Sanjeewa, President of the Customs Officers Association, stated that recent reward cheques bounced due to insufficient funds, prompting their demand to retain control over the fund. As part of their action, Customs officials have ceased overtime duties, with further measures threatened if the issue remains unresolved.

Simultaneously, Sanath Manjula, President of the Container Operators Association, reported 600 containers held up at the Colombo Port terminals, with potential disruptions to port operations looming. Customs, operating on a work-to-rule basis, is prioritizing urgent cargo clearance, causing delays and security concerns for truck drivers.

While no ships are currently on hold, the situation could deteriorate by Monday, prompting the Finance Ministry to address the matter with President Ranil Wickremesinghe tomorrow.

Customs Spokesman Seevali Arukgoda confirmed the trade union action’s impact on port and airport operations, with officials focusing solely on essential item clearances.

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