JALALABAD (Pajhwok): Transport department officials in eastern Nangarhar province are receiving illegal payments from drivers at the Samarkhel port, Pajhwok Afghan News has learnt
Jalalabad, the provincial capital, has four exit gates — Hadda Farm, Daronta, Behsud bridge and Samarkhel.
In 2019, official figures show, about 197,218 vehicles passed through the Samarkhel gate. On a daily basis, about 550 cars crossed the port.
Based on rules and regulations, the receipts handed to drivers should carry dates, signatures, the department’s stamp, vehicle route, the number of passengers and the amount of fare.
However, Pajhwok reliably learnt that most of the duty papers were issued without these specifications.
Pajhwok obtained a copy of the plan devised by the Ministries of Finance and Transport, as well as Kabul Municipality, in accordance with the High Economic Council’s decision. The plan, on the face of it, seeks improve the transport revenue collection system.
Under the plan, each passenger vehicle will be taxed three percent of the total fare. But everything happening at the port runs counter to the plan.
People travel to 11 districts of Nangarhar — Haska Mena, Rodat, Kot, Batikot, Achin, Ghanikhel, Spin Ghar, Nazian, Durbaba, Momand Dara, Lalpura and Torkhan through the Samarkhel port.
Residents of the districts other than Rodat, Haska Mena, Kot, Batikot and Torkham first go to the Marko bazaar in Ghanikhel before travelling to their respective areas in an attempt to reduce the fares charged by drivers.
A five-passenger car usually charges 50 afghanis from each passenger going to Marko bazaar. Three percent of the total fare of 250 afghanis comes to 7.5 afghanis. But at the Samarkhel port, each vehicle is charged 30 afghanis by the transport department workers.
Official said 10 afghanis were paid to the custom department and 7.5 afghanis to the transport department. Still, they charge 12 afghanis more than what is payable.
At least 600 vehicles pass through the port daily. If 50 percent of the vehicles come from Marko bazaar, an additional amount of about 3,750 afghanis is collected daily, 112,500afs a month and 1,350,000afs annually.
The Pajhwok team monitored activities at the Samarkhel port and found differences in the figures provided by port and the department personnel. Their statements, actions and activities are against the law and could pave the ground for corruption.
Pajhwok also found a tax receipt which did not have the signature of any official. The slip had no stamp, no date, no route and no amount of fare. The driver of five-seat car said he paid the port authorities 30 afghanis.
Khan Wazir Zazai, the director of transport, said 10 afghanis were paid to the Ministry of Finance under the law, which requires each vehicle to pay three percent of the fare. A five-passenger car is thus charged 19 afghanis — a total payment of 29 afghanis.
But Samarkhel port officials receive 30 afghanis from each car — one afghani more.
Hazratullah Niazai, in charge of the Samarkhel port, his staff did not have change (coins) to pay back to drivers. As a result, they collected 30 afghanis.
But Wazir Zazai acknowledged any tax receipt without a signature, date, stamp and other specifications was illegal. Any official caught issuing such slips would face legal action, he added.
Port revenue and where it goes:
Based on information from the transport department, in 2019, about 197,218 cars passed through the Samarkhel port and 48,165,175 afghanis were collected in revenue. It was deposited in the government treasury under account number 85530.
The vehicles included passenger cars and trucks. Different amounts were charged from the vehicles. Duty slips are distributed in violation of the relevant rules.
A source in Da Afghanistan Bank in the east told Pajhwok on condition of anonymity that the bank account number 85530 was for all government revenue sources and the amounts deposited by different departments were unclear.
Hundreds of vehicles carry five to eight passengers each from Jalalabad to different Nangarhar districts on a daily basis. Drivers say they pay 30 afghanis per trip on the Jalalabad-Torkham highway in Samarkhel area. But only 10afs are mentioned in the duty slip, they allege.
Drivers say they do not know where the money ends up, because the receipts have no stamps, signatures, dates and registration numbers of cars.
Rais Khan, 30-year-old driver Batikot district, told Pajhwok that transport workers at the Samarkhel port were extorting money from them daily.
Another taxi driver, Nusratullah, said: “If I try to escape, the transport workers will hit my car with sticks and stones. So I have to pay them 30 afs even if I am travelling to a nearby district.”
The Pajhwok team visited the Samarkhel port and found something new: On Saturdays, when there are cattle fairs in Jalalabad, thousands of animals are brought to the market for sale before they are then transported to districts.
Transport department workers charge each vehicle carrying animals with 50afs at the Samarkhel port without issuing receipts to drivers.
One Pajhwok reporter saw 37 vehicles carrying only animals in three hours. Each of the vehicles paid the port officials 50afs.
In six hours, the number of vehicles would soar to 74 and the amount paid in the name of toll tax to 2,700afs a day, 14,800afs a month and 177,600afs a year. This money ends up in pockets of the individuals manning the port.
Bacha, a livestock trader, takes cattle from Jalalabad to Marko every week and pays 50afs at the port. But he receives no duty receipt from the relevant officials.
Ajmal Omar, deputy head of provincial council, confirmed corruption at the port, saying such the duty slips did not have signatures, stamps and other details. He claimed the money lined the pockets of the officials on duty.
Transport officials’ response:
Local transport officials say traffic on the highway has almost fallen by 50 percent after the Torkham gate closure, which led to a significant drop in their revenue.
Hazratullah Niazai, the Samarkhel port head, said 200 to 250 vehicles travelled to nearby areas every day and each vehicle was required to pay 29afs.
He added, “Every high-speed vehicle carrying passengers has to pay 29afs and 10afs of them go to MoF and the reaming 19afs to the transport commission that is deposited in the bank every month. Later on, it is paid to the Ministry of Transport.”
However, he denied issuing receipts that did not have the required details. The papers were not stamped anywhere in Afghanistan, the official claimed.
Niazai admitted each receipt had three copies. The original was handed to the driver, the second copy to the department of transportation and the third stayed with port staff.
Nangarhar Transport Director Rais Khan Wazir Zazai acknowledged each driver, who was required to pay 29afs, was charged 30afs.
“One afghani has no value and even drivers do not demand it and there was no calculation of one afs under the law,” the director argued.
According to the Pajhwok report, 197,218 afs went into private pockets last year from the Samarkhel port.
Attaullah Khogyani, the governor’s spokesman, also confirmed corruption at the port. Both the authorities concerned and divers were involved in this graft, he said.
The absence of signatures, stamps and other details on the duty papers is illegal, according to Khogyani, who promised steps would be taken to prevent this anomaly.
Dr. Mohammad Liaqat Adil, the Afghanistan Labour Association head, told Pajhwok there were a lot of issues and problems in the transport and others sectors.
He said people were willing to pay taxes to the government in accordance with the law, but they were not happy with problems and corruption in government institutions.
This report has been produced by Pajhwok and financially supported by UNDP and Denmark.