In spite of the Pakistani government’s initiative to limit the smuggling of phones by introducing Device Identification Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS), an inherent loophole present in the current airport system threatens to render those efforts futile.
The loophole essentially permits the passage of illegal phones by incoming foreigners without making them aware of the fact that their names and passport numbers are being used for this act.
Experts have taken the view that the two main stakeholders i.e. Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should take steps to absolutely prevent the smuggling of phones via the facility available to foreign passengers under admissible baggage allowance.
The current system at airports, and its flawed nature, can be understood by the custom general order’s description of the system.
“The system, in particular, will require the applicant/traveler to submit the details of passport number, computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) number, International Motile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number etc. The said information submitted by the applicant will be auto-processed/ validated through WeBOC. The mobile devices will accordingly be cleared by the system in accordance with admissible allowances under the Baggage Rules, whereby the first mobile phone in a year will be allowed registration/whitelisting in DIRBS free of duty/taxes”, the customs general order states.
Furthermore, the PTA website states that according to custom baggage rule, international passengers can “avail duty/tax exemption on one mobile device in a calendar year”.
The problem lies within the possibility of smuggled phones to be documented under the information associated with international travelers who avail baggage facility. There is an even greater threat of smuggling with passengers availing the facility of one free phone (without taxes and duties) under the Baggage Rules.
The onus is now on the FBR and PTA to formulate a plan that modifies the current system so as to eliminate any loophole that permits the smuggling of illegal phones. This could be achieved by restricting the baggage facilities available to foreign passengers and providing suitable alternatives.