Archives For border management

Forgive my exuberance and national pride, for one minute. After some years of intense re-organisation and strategization a new dynamic organization is set to spearhead ICT development in the Customs and Border Management industry. Many will know it by its previous name TATIS or TATIScms. The Cape Town based IT outfit is responsible for the intuitive customs software solution which currently operates in Luxembourg Customs. Let it be known that this is one tough space to operate and succeed in.

Africa, in particular, has  suffered the stigma of UN and World Bank ‘freebies’ by way of customs automated solutions – designed and developed by the west, on western philosophy with little concern for the longer term sustainability and development on the African continent. Before the emergence of commercial Windows-based software, African states (and most developing countries for that matter) had little option but to adopt ASYCUDA. The French colonies in the main sought franco-developed SOFIX. Bull Computers were particularly strong in this space and received great support from the French government in their ventures.

Just as the ‘power’ of the west is waning under financial and political turmoil, so developmental states and economies are looking to their own resources and expertise to fulfil their needs and destinies. A similar phenomenon occurred in the border and port control security space during the first decade of the 21st century, where the Chinese have virtually stolen international market share in NII (Cargo scanning) equipment.  Therefore the emergence of InterFront on the Customs ICT scene is both unique and timely. For more details on the new company and its partners, solutions and expertise please visit their website: http://www.interfront.co.za. Also read their corporate and product profile brochure – click here!

This week, Interfront are show-casing their solution and expertise at the WCO‘s 2012 ICT Conference in Tallinn, Estonia. With the international customs and border management relatively young and seeking stability, Interfront have a great opportunity to develop a regional and international footprint. SARS, in particular, looks forward to its new integrated customs solution; setting a new bench mark in global customs processing.

Hardly a week goes by without some or other African politician waxing lyrical about continental integration, continental trade diversification, and a wholesome analysis of the ‘barriers’ which prevent the African continent  from reaching its full economic potential. No doubt I’m a bit biased in relaying the recent ‘public lecture’ of our deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe at the University of Finlandread the full speech here! Plenty of insight clearly delineating a plethora of barriers; yet, are we African’s so naive not to have identified these barriers before? Evidently yes.

In recent weeks, on the local front, we have learnt that One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) is the solution to non-tariff barriers. This topic was drilled amongst the press till it got boring. The focus soon thereafter shifted to the implementation of a border management agency (BMA) – all of government under one roof – so simple. The reality is that there is no silver-bullet solution to African continental integration. Of this, affected business, Customs administrations and the international donor community is acutely aware. While the WTO and the multitude of trade lawyers will ‘yadder’ on about ‘diversification’ in trade, the reality is that Africa’s raw materials are even more sought after today than at an any time before. Certainly those countries which contain vast resources of oil and strategic minerals are about to reap the benefits. So why would African countries be concerned about diversification when the petro-dollars are rolling in? Perhaps greed or lack of foresight for the medium to long-term well-being of countries and their citizens? The fact remains, without homegrown industries producing goods from raw materials, most of  Africa’s eligible working class will continue to be employed by foreign mineral moguls or the public service.

Several customs and infrastructure solutions have over the last few years emerged with the usual credential of “WCO or WTO compliant”. Africa has been a guinea pig for many of these solutions - ‘experiments’ if you prefer. Literally millions of dollars are being spent every year trying out so-called ‘best-of-breed’ technology which users unfortunately accept without much questioning. The cart is being placed before the horse. Why? because the underlying route cause/s are not being identified, understood (sufficiently) and prioritized. Insofar as there exists no silver bullet solution, neither is there a single route cause in most cases. Unfortunately, donor aid often comes with its own pre-conceived outcomes which don’t necessarily tie in with those of the target country or the well-being of the continent.

While governments like to tout the ‘big-hitting’ projects, there are several ‘less exciting’ (technical) areas which countries can address to kick-start the process. One of these has even been recognised by the likes of the World Bank and OECD notwithstanding capital-intensive programs which promised much and have not delivered fully on their promise.  The issue at hand is the harmonisation of customs data. It might at first sound irrelevant or trivial, yet it is the key enabler for most Customs Modernisation initiatives. While there is still much anticipation in regard to the forthcoming deliberation and outcome of the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) initiative at June’s WCO Policy Commission session in Brussels, there is significant support for this approach on the African continent. The momentum needs to be maintained.

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The Freight-Intra Africa Trade Conference in Pretoria, this week, has featured several news articles in the local media, and no doubt some foreign tabloids as well. The Minister of Transport has cleared up the cause of the ills plaguing cross border and regional transport. At least we are now fully informed that [historical] design issues and operational inefficiencies at South Africa’s landborders, and Beit Bridge in particular, are the fundamental causes of under-performance in intra-Africa trade.

“In most cases, the delays at the borders are caused by operational inefficiencies, which result in the duplication of processes. This is a serious cost to the economies of the countries that conduct their trade through such border posts,” the Minister said.

One has to seriously question who advises the minister which leads to such statements, and whether or not these advisers have visited any land borders in recent months.

Now the remedy - Government has budgeted and approved R845-billion for infrastructure development over the medium-term, with a significant proportion, about R262-billion of this investment being earmarked for transport infrastructure and logistics projects. Can anyone question government’s commitment in this respect? Not really. However, the Minister was quick to point out government would resolve inefficiencies at the borders by establishing a mechanism that will bring all border entities under a single command and control structure to address the fragmentation in border operations. “The ultimate vision is to create one-stop border operations to facilitate legitimate trade and travel across the borders”.

The proliferation of border management agencies (integration of enforcement and regulatory authorities under one umbrella) – which has seen the demise of many customs administrations over the last decade – has not proven an effective vehicle to manage cross border travel and trade. It is difficult to see how facilitation procedures can co-exist under a command and control environment. What the situation does create is the opportunity to consolidate a budget for security expenditure. Various Sources: Engineering News, Business Live, Fin24.com and personal opinion.