Development of Customs in a historical perspective
Collection of duties on goods delivered for sale to markets on the historical territory of Latvia, as well as goods transported through the territory of Latvia (i.e., in transit) dates back to early origins of trade in Latvia. As for Customs rules established and practiced in Western countries, they were gradually introduced in Latvia as a result of dynamic political changes, especially starting with the 13th century throughout the Hanseatic and Livonian times, the consecutive periods of the reign of the Polish-Lithuanian Grand Duchy, the Swedish Kingdom, and the Russian Empire. After the establishment of the first independent Latvia State in 1918, the Provisional Government issued a decree on external trade and, as a result, the work on setting up customhouses on the most relevant trade routes started. After the occupation of the Republic of Latvia in 1940 and subsequent liquidation of the Latvian Customs as a independent and sovereign institution, operation of Customs was subject to the order dictated, in turns, by the Soviet Union (USSR), the Nazi Germany, and then again by the USSR. On 4 May 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the declaration ?On the restoration of independence of the Republic of Latvia? which enabled the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia, on 3 July 1990, to establish the Customs Department directly subordinated to the Council. Initially Latvian customs control points (CCP) operated in parallel with Soviet customs offices. Latvian CCPs were established gradually - first at Riga Airport, Railway Terminal, Riga Sea Port, Liepaja and Ventspils Port. On 1 October 1990, the first land border CCP ?Vientuli? was put into operation, and two days later another CCP opened in Veclaicene. Other customs CCP started to operate only in late 1990 and early 1991.
CUSTOMS, A PART OF THE STATE REVENUE SERVICE
In 1993, it was decided to merge two institutions dealing with tax administration ? the Customs Department and the Financial Police to establish a single national tax administration authority ? the State Revenue Service (SRS). On 28 October 1993, the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) adopted the law ?On the State Revenue Service? effective since 25 November 1993. The National Customs Board (NCB) became a part of the SRS central administrative structure. The SRS Riga Customs Regional Office was created alongside with Customs boards within SRS Regional Offices (Zemgale, Latgale, Kurzeme, Vidzeme) directly subordinated to the SRS Director General and operationally managed by the NCB.
The Customs Criminal Board within the SRS was created in August 2002 and, starting with September 2004 ? regional branches of Customs Criminal Board also started their operation.
Various informative materials and manuals on customs matters are available in the SRS web site www.vid.gov.lv containing also a special section ?Frequently asked questions? publishing answers to queries raised by business persons.
Complaints about unethical or illegal actions of customs officials can be communicated to the SRS NCB hotline: +371 7047555.
Customs also uses specially trained dogs for preventing illegal introduction and circulation of drugs and psychotropic substances in Latvia In September 2003, the Latvian Customs drug detecting dog team took part in the III European Championship for Customs Drug Detecting Dogs in Poland. The Latvian team was awarded the second prize, while, in the individual ranking, the drug detecting dog trainer from the SRS Vidzeme Regional Office with her dog won the title of European Champion. In September 2004, participation in the IV European Championship for Customs Drug Detecting Dogs in the Czech Republic brought the Latvian team the 5th place among 13 countries, which can be considered an excellent result for newly trained dogs with mere 7 month service experience.
The Latvian Customs has developed close professional co-operation ties with Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts, exchange of information and joint control missions are organised also with colleagues from other countries. Joint projects, training sessions, exchange of expertise and information about drug seizure cases, training how to identify suspicious behaviour of individuals to be selected for control ? these are just a few examples of co-operation aspects successfully tackled together with customs authorities of Sweden, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, as well as the United States of America.
In October 2003, Latvia hosted the V Baltic Sea Region Customs Conference, with participants from nine customs administrations within the Baltic Sea region and official representatives of the European Commission. Although this was the last customs administrations conference of that type, the participants agreed to continue regional collaboration within the framework of the Baltic Sea Region States Council.
In February 2004, a special customs attaché ¦rom the National Customs Board started his work in Brussels to ensure exchange of information and Latvian representation in EU institutions and the World Customs Organisation, as well as to provide support in the issues related with the EU.
The reorganisation of the SRS has resulted in the reduction of 257 employees as compared with the figures in April 2004, before Latvia joined the EU. Currently the SRS National Customs Board, Customs Laboratory, regional customs offices and Customs Criminal Board employ more than 1500 people.
Efficient fulfilment of the functions and tasks delegated to the Customs Service requires educated and highly qualified personnel. 79 % of SRS Customs staff have higher education, 13 % - secondary vocational education, and 8 % - secondary education.
Customs staff can upgrade their knowledge and skills by attending training sessions and seminars provided by state institutions, as well as courses and seminars hosted by various firms.
Practical and theoretical training sessions are also provided in co-operation with foreign experts in various customs projects and events within the framework of the programme ?Customs 2007?.
Training of customs officials is also organised at the International Business and Customs Institute (SESMI ? a commonly used Latvian abbreviation) founded on 23 May 1994 under the Faculty of Engineering and Economics of Riga Technical University. Each year approximately 400 customs officers and nearly the same number of certified customs clearance agents (customs brokers) and certified declarants upgrade their qualifications in SESMI short-term courses.
SESMI graduates of the 1st-level professional tertiary education programme (college level) ?Administration of Customs and Taxes? are conferred the qualification of ?Customs expert? or ?Tax inspector?. This education allows them to continue studies in the professional Bachelor programme ?Administration of Customs and Taxes? (2nd-level professional tertiary education). Starting with 2005, SESMI offers also studies in the professional Master programme ?Administration of Customs and Taxes?.
Upon joining the Customs Service, the new customs officers give the oath of loyalty to the Republic of Latvia. The text of the oath: ?On joining the Customs Service of the Republic of Latvia, I recognise my responsibility before the laws of the Republic of Latvia, I promise to unwaveringly guard the sovereignty of the Latvia State and to protect its lawful interests, to perform my official duties to the best of my conscience and to comply with the discipline of customs work?.
The Latvian Customs Officials Code of Ethics and Conduct was approved on 25 October 2001 based on the recommendations by the World Customs Organisation. It incorporates general guidelines and standards as to the strategy and principles of conduct to be complied with in the Latvian Customs and thus applies to all employees of the SRS National Customs Board and regional customs offices as it is an integral part of the SRS Code of Ethics.
When starting the service, Latvian customs officers are conferred ranks. The ranks are conferred, promoted, reduced or withdrawn considering the rank hierarchy and taking into account the opinion of the SRS Attestation Commission, as well as the position of customs officer and the length of service in the previous rank.
In late 2004, customs officers received new uniforms. In November 2004, the new uniforms were first distributed to customs officers working at customs checkpoints on the EU external borders. It is a tradition with the State Revenue Service to organise annual Sports and Fitness Festivals, where all central administration and regional units challenge each other in traditional and extraordinary disciplines ? an event which not only allows the personnel to demonstrate their physical fitness and skills but also offers an opportunity to enjoy good company in an informal atmosphere.
The team of the National Customs Board takes part in these festivals on a regular basis and does its best to rank among the strongest competitors both in individual disciplines as well as in total scores collected by the team.
Since 2005 Latvian Customs has started to actively participate in ECSA (European Customs Sports Association) events. For example, sniffing dog competitions, shooting competitions, etc.
National Customs Board of the State Revenue Service of the Republic of Latvia
Address: Talejas iela 1, Riga, LV-1978, Latvia
Telephone: (+371) 67120981
Working hours: Monday 8.15-19.00; Tuesday – Thursday 8:15 – 17:00; Fridays 8:15 – 16:00
Consultations on general customs issues by phone: (+371) 67120000
Information on Customs: the State Revenue Service of the Republic of Latvia www.vid.gov.lv.
Tel: +371 67120970