In response to businesses' continued complaints about harassment by customs officers, the Ho Chi Minh City customs department has asked them to be bold, question the reasons for their demands, and inform their bosses, news website Saigon Times Online reported.
"Businesses should reason with and inform authorities based on current regulations when they get unreasonable demands from customs officers," Nguyen Thanh Long, deputy chief of the city customs’ supervision division, was quoted as saying at a conference last Thursday.
If businesses provide department chiefs with the correct identities of corrupt officers, they are ready to arrange a meeting with businesses to resolve their problems, Nguyen Quoc Toan, deputy chief of the department's export-import division, said.
Customs chiefs do not make it their policy to let officers harass businesses and cover up their wrongdoing, Toan said.
He pointed out that at meetings over the past decade businesses always complained that customs officers demanded them adjust their import prices to calculate taxes though they had submitted all necessary documents to justify the prices.
However, he has never seen objections by any business in the minutes of price-consultation meetings with customs, and they should have stated something like "customs officers arbitrarily imposed prices" if they had found decision dubious, Toan claimed.
At the latest meeting, HCMC business executives again complained that customs officers extorted money or delayed things with red tape.
"We are forced to pay them so that our imports can be cleared without delay," a deputy director of an electronics import firm was quoted as saying.
"Every business present here would understand this.”
Dinh Cong Khuong, chairman of Khuong Mai Steel Company, said customs constantly imposed higher-than-declared prices on their imported shaped steel items, sometimes almost double, even though they submitted all verification documents.
He said the previous day his company had imported a consignment at US$373 per ton, but his employees informed him that some customs officers wanted to hike the price to $400 and demanded VND1 million ($46.3) to keep the price.
An SPTD Toshiba Vietnam executive queried the legitimacy of all of his company's electronics imports being categorized as "red" in the last 10 months, saying similar items were categorized as "yellow" in the northern port of Hai Phong.
Under Vietnamese laws, imports are categorized as "red" when 100 percent of items in a consignment are checked manually, "yellow" when only part of the consignment is checked, and "green" when there are almost no checks at all.
The categorization is done automatically with criteria decided by customs.
In another case, CMA CGM Vietnam JSC, a shipping line, said though all the declaration processes are now handled online, customs officers still ask them to print all the forms and submit them, which is costly and time-consuming, since the number of documents can run into the hundreds.