Kendall, Courtney and Trevor Islam are three siblings based in California who came up with a unique initiative to provide football boots to the schoolgirls of Safura Khatun Girls’ High School in Karimpur.
The Islam siblings took this initiative after visiting the school in 2014. This school, which had over five hundred students from between 9 and 16 years, was built by their grandfather in 2003. They were motivated to help the schoolgirls because they were really impressed by the enthusiasm and skills the schoolgirls showed for playing football.
In order to collect shoes and raise money for the shipment cost, the Islam siblings started a crowd-funding project called “KickStart Karimpur” in October, last year.
“Their soccer skills were impressive, but they played in traditional Bengali clothing and sandals. After returning home, we wanted to support the school in a way that was special to both the students and to us, so we started an organisation called KickStart Karimpur to donate soccer cleats to the girls,” reads the description on their project's homepage.
By December, 2015 Kendall and her siblings collected 120 pairs of shoes and raised $1,060 for shipment cost. However, the boxes of shoes were held at Dhaka Shahjalal International Airport by the customs authorities who demanded a duty of $2,500, equivalent to Tk160,000. Neither the Islam siblings nor the school could afford such an amount of money to pay as tax.
The lawyers of Old Bailey Chambers have been fighting this case pro-bono for over seven months now. “Regardless of the fact that this is a charitable initiative, the state counsels have been toiling to ensure that the government collects the duty on the shoes. They would have saved a lot of time and effort, and gathered higher value duty from other cases if the same effort was given on the appropriate duty-payable cases instead,” one of the petitioner's lawyers commented.
“This incident draws attention to the utter lack of provisions in our country regarding receiving aid from abroad through individual initiative,” another lawyer from Old Bailey Chambers, Nahid Hossain, writes on INTELLECT.
The Old Bailey Chambers explained that the sender had initially declared and estimated the value of the shoes for insurance claim purposes before sending them over. They have estimated the value of the goods as $2,500 based on which the customs duty was assessed.
They sent a letter to the National Board of Revenue (NBR) asking for an exemption from the tax in February as goods sent as charity or for public interest “under circumstances of exceptional nature” get exempted from paying duty. There was no response from the NBR.
On April 11, the lawyers filed a writ petition following which the High Court issued a rule upon the government - a court order that does not have any force unless a particular condition is met.
Deputy Attorney General SM Moniruzzaman told the Dhaka Tribune: “Everything depends on NBR’s decision. We cannot act outside the law. Otherwise, the recipient needs a no objection certificate (NOC) from Ministry of Commerce, and then permission from Ministry of Education.”
On August 23, the judges directed customs officials to exempt the 120 pairs of used shoes from paying duty, and that they distribute 120 pairs of shoes in the presence of the local UNO and Upazila Education Officer.
In response to this, the government’s counsels have filed for an appeal which is due on October 2. If the court order goes in their favour, the Islam siblings or the school will not only be asked to pay the tax for the goods, but also the fee of the customs warehouse where the goods are kept and port charges.