Catdom Case Study – Strategic recommendation
In recent years, the State of Catdom has become a major trading force in the region. Trade, both import and export, has grown by approximately 5 percent annually over the past four years, closely mirroring annual growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government relies on revenues from import duties and taxes to support its economic agenda. The Ministry of Finance sets the rates for customs duties, which have remained relatively constant for twelve years, ranging from 10% to 30% depending on commodity and origin. The State Customs Agency (SCA), which is directly accountable to the Ministry of Finance, is responsible for collecting customs duties, which are then deposited into the State treasury
Despite the sustained growth of GDP and imports, revenues from duties and taxes have actually declined, when they should have increased proportionately. The Ministry of Finance is concerned about the decline in import revenues, on which the government’s operating budget is highly dependent. The Ministry is also aware of increasing accusations alluding to systemic corruption within the SCA. These two factors have led the Minister to ask you, an accredited integrity investigator, to conduct an investigation and report back to the Minister with your findings and recommendations.
You accepted this challenge and, during the next few weeks, met with the director general and other senior officials at the SCA and other government departments. You visited the country’s busiest seaport and airport, and visited several land border crossings. You also met with representatives from national import-export associations, several major importers, and manufacturer/exporters.
Throughout these many meetings, a troublesome picture began to emerge. The more significant findings are reported below:
• Three years ago, after the appointment of the current director general (from the private sector), most key senior SCA officials were released from their positions and replaced by previous business associates and family members of the director general.
• Many previous recruitment and hiring policies were changed or eliminated altogether
o Cronyism and nepotism have become commonplace throughout the Agency
o Nearly one third of the customs staff has been replaced during the past three years
o Many promotions are no longer competitive but may be attained upon payment of a bribe to a senior officer.
Periodic payments are necessary to remain in one’s position.
This has a domino effect and is evident at almost every level within the Agency, up to the director general
• A series of supposed cost-cutting measures were introduced by the director general’s office; these included salary rollback for most employees, with the exception of positions favoured by that office
o The wages for most employees, including customs officers at border crossings and ports of entry, are now less than comparable wages for other public sector positions
o Wages are near or below the poverty line for many employees, particularly those who have dependent families
o Salaries for senior positions have remained unchanged or have increased
• There is little or no oversight at many border posts; customs officers and supervisors have almost complete autonomy over the operations at the post and may generally do as they please without fear of repercussion from those in authority above. For example:
o There is a reliance on manual clearance procedures with opportunity for significant interaction between the customs officers and the travelling/importing public
o Demands for payment of a facilitation fee (bribe) to the customs officers or supervisor (to obtain clearance of shipments) have become routine
o Failure to pay these fees often results in additional layers of examination and documentation requirements, and further delays in the release of shipments, sometimes for several days or more; yet goods may be released immediately upon payment of the fee
o It has become common practice at some border points for officers to ‘look the other way’, to permit the entry (or exit) of a shipment without documentation or examination, in exchange for monetary consideration. Some shipments are suspected to contain contraband including weapons, drugs and other prohibited or dangerous goods. This has been cited as a contributing factor to a rise in street crime in the larger cities and towns.
• The SCA works under an array of outdated trade laws and regulations, many of which were implemented in an earlier period when protectionism was a government priority.
o In the interceding years, although the government has done much to promote international trade, Customs has lagged seriously behind.
o Many rules and procedures are not consistent with those of its trading partners and create disadvantages to importers and exporters alike. In fact, there is little consistency amongst the ports of entry within the SCA’s jurisdiction.
• Despite a national tariff framework there is considerable inconsistency among and within ports in respect to how goods are classified or in the rates of duty assessed or amounts collected
o Procedures are in place to help officers classify goods and determine the rate of duty to charge, yet they are rarely followed or enforced.
o Officers classify and rate goods independently with no oversight or guidance
o For importers, there is no predictability for what might occur when their goods arrive at customs. They are never certain as to how their goods will be treated upon entry, therefore making the transaction less predictable and potentially more costly than anticipated.
o If an importer disagrees with an officer’s decision, there is no formal redress procedure available other than to try to persuade the officer to change his or her mind. Senior officers simply refer the importer back to the officer who made the initial decision, although some may occasionally intervene upon payment of an arranged fee.
• There is a ‘disconnect’ between the reporting/release of goods and the accounting/duty payment processes at Customs and ultimately deposits to the treasury.
o The State has access to excellent computer technologies, yet the SCA relies heavily upon manual tracking processes where paperwork and documents are frequently lost and shipments are not unaccounted for.
o No formal acquitting process exists and it is nearly impossible to relate a duty payment to a specific shipment
o No traceability capacity exists to follow a shipment’s history from arrival to release
o Further, even when goods are officially ‘released’ there may be additional ‘fees’ required before the goods are actually able to be removed from the warehouse
• Trade statistics and revenue reports from the SCA have become less reliable and, in some cases, suspect
• The revenue leakage associated with customs duties appears to be significant. In addition to reduced operating funds for government, there is uncertainty for the Ministry of Finance which is responsible for preparing the government’s budgets and forecasts. Further uncertainty arises for other government departments (e.g., Department of Industry and Trade) that rely on SCA data in support of their initiatives and priorities.
• Relations between the SCA and its external clients have deteriorated to the point where there is much distrust of the agency.
o The SCA is routinely criticized for making decisions without consultation or engagement with the stakeholders.
o The lack of consistency and transparency within the SCA impede sound business decisions in the private sector due to the uncertainty that exists
o Complaints to supervisors, port managers and senior SCA officials are often ignored or downplayed hence many no longer bother to come forward with complaints
o Some members of the importing community are afraid to come forward with complaints, out of fear of reprisal from local management or officers responsible for clearing their goods
o Bordering customs administrations have voiced concerns that certain SCA practices are undermining their administrations’ efforts
• Relations are no better within the agency
o There is an environment of distrust within the agency; employees believe that their complaints will go unheeded or worse, that the employee might become the target of suspicion, reprisal or be singled out for disciplinary action and even discharged.
o Employees within the agency have no independent investigative body with which they might file a complaint or report suspicious activity. Employees may only complain to their direct superior, who might actually be the subject of the complaint.
o The existing environment serves only to further empower corrupt officers within the agency.
• Morale within the SCA has deteriorated to such a level that the agency has, in effect, become dysfunctional.
o Not only do most employees resent working at the SCA; many feel despair, that they are trapped with no hope for advancement.
o There are many informal and unwritten norms at the SCA, all leaving doubt in the employees’ minds as to what is permitted and what is not. This creates a continuous environment of ambiguity for the employees.
o Most employees want to do a good job and have pride in their work, yet they see corrupt practices being rewarded and honest work being disparaged
o They feel and suffer from public condemnation outside of work, even from families and friends at times.
Nearing the end of your investigation, you decided to meet once more with the director general of the SCA to discuss, in general terms, some aspects of your findings and to determine whether any actions had been initiated or were contemplated to address the current situation. To your dismay, the director general expressed no concern for the matter, stating that these issues were ‘imaginary in the minds of a few disgruntled employees’ but that he would commit to look into it and ‘take appropriate disciplinary measures’.
You have completed your investigation and have concluded that considerable corruption exists within the SCA, starting from the top down. If not addressed, the corruption will have serious and long-lasting ramifications, not only for the State Customs Agency but for the government and citizens of Catdom.
In consideration of your findings, drawing from your knowledge of the Revised Arusha Declaration and related tools and resources of the World Customs Organization, prepare a comprehensive strategy with appropriate recommendations for presentation to the Minister of Finance and other senior cabinet ministers of Catdom.
Please make sure to include the Revised Arusha Declaration and related tools and resources of the World Customs Organization in sources