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The stripped customs duty-free privileges for aircraft crew and frequent travelers back in June 2011 was reinstated after painstaking negotiations between the officials of Ethiopian Airlines and the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA), Capital learnt.
In a move that irritated pilots, flight attendants and some passengers, ERCA has stripped off duty-free privileges from “frequent travelers” including cockpit and cabin crews of EAL a year ago. EAL, which understood the impact of the move on its staff, approached ERCA in a bid to resolve the issue. “The problem is not allowing or banning duty-free privileges. It arises when the privilege entrusted by law was abused. It was meant for personal consumption but not for business purposes. Until such abuses were rectified, we had to ban it. We have reached a consensus that the airline will have a system to prevent such abuses. After we had diverse discussion, we introduced a new directive which is a bit more conservative than the previous one. It is being implemented. Now, that is a closed issue,” Melaku Fenta, Director-General of ERCA with a ministerial portfolio, told Capital.
However, Capital sources at the airline claim that things on the ground lack uniformity.
“I don’t observe a uniform approach on the ground. Some pay while others do not for same quantity of duty-free goods. I think, there is no clear cut line between who gets the privilege and who does not,” argued the source on condition of anonymity.
ERCA’s “frequent traveler” means passengers who travel aboard at least twice in three conservative months or four times in a year.
ERCA says unless exempted by law, items imported into Ethiopia are subject to a number of taxes. Tax laws levy about five kinds of taxes on imported goods. The taxes include customs duty, excise tax, VAT, surtax and withholding tax.
“The duty-free privilege to import some items is by law extended to Ethiopian passengers coming to home. This privilege has been wrongly [by tradition] extended to very frequent travelers including airlines’ crew. We took measures to correct this practice,” argued the Director-General when approached by Capital a year ago.
It was back in November 2011 Bole Airport Customs first canceled the privileges for “frequent travelers.” But it was reversed after 48 hours and was reinstated a month later.
Passengers enjoy privileges of duty-free cigarettes [up to 20 packs], liquor or wine [up to two liters], 0.5 liter of perfume, one non professional camera, one portable DVD among a few other items. Such privileges were not in place for pilots, flight attendants and what ERCA termed as frequent travelers for most months of the last year.