Decay in ‘morals’ – irrational and corrupt behaviour

My recent post – Harbour mafia busted! – prompts a serious look at human judgement and the cause and effects of corrupt behaviour. The tragedy of the hit on Johan Nortje brings to reality the result of playing with danger. Those that will subsequently be convicted, most likely never conceived this ‘danger’ at the moment of their initial courtship with the criminal underworld. Neither did they perceive that a fellow law enforcement colleague would bear the brunt of their wrong-doing. That’s the reality of consequence of choice.

The origin of customs collection and control dates back more than 2000 years, as do attempts to undermine a country’s fiscal and economic security. Therefore the scourge of corruption is as old as the laws which gave rise to ‘controls’ at borders and ports of entry. The levying of taxes has always resulted in attempts to circumvent the payment thereof. Corruption of senior officials and politicians is the Achilles heel of poor and developing countries. It is a crime that is largely invisible but its consequences can be far reaching. It destroys confidence and morale in law enforcement structures, and robs local laborers and companies trying to etch out a decent living.

Over the centuries, and particularly the latter decades, governments and their law enforcement arms have fought against fraud in various ways. Populous countries (in the past) always had an abundance of people to staff the Customs or Border agency. Above all it was important for the government of the day to be seen as providing employment, hence a measure of comfort at election time. The close-knit command and control of port and border officials under strict observation of their respective port commanders – who in the past had ultimate control over their regions – proved effective in the main in preventing cross border crimes. However, the emergence of bootlegging and the mafia in the 1930’s (USA) proved a real challenge given that these ‘movements’ had an enormous amount of money to neutralise uncooperative customs officials and law enforcement officers. Buying the cooperation of officials left ‘blackmail’ hanging over the heads of the unfortunate officers. In many cases, breaking silence or turning state witness meant possible assassination for the individual and possibly his family as well. Yet, let it be said that such cross-border crime was very much tangible by way of the persons and the modus operandi involved. No, I’m not suggesting it was easy to contain, but it was certainly a whole lot more visible and localised for the authorities to contend with and address. Still, the manpower and the cost to deploy large task forces on the ground were inhibitive for law enforcement agencies.

Today, the world of ‘illicit goods’ is global; the operators can direct activities from the remotest parts of the world thanks to the information super-highway and all means of information and communication technology available today. Similarly, technology ensures near real-time payments to willing participants in crime. Despite this, the matter of ‘illicit goods’ remains a physical movement requiring ‘people’ to arrange and oversee transportation, and distribution to the buyer. It is a well-known fact that the movement of ‘illicit goods’ has a corresponding financial pipeline through which the profits of crime are channeled. Law enforcement has a challenge in trying to piece these activities together. This will involve cooperation of multiple agencies to bring about a result. More often than not, the selfish ambition of one or other agency overrides the collective approach to smash a syndicate. Once again its the age of key performance areas and indicators, and outcomes based initiatives which get ahead of the real issue – to neutralise an enemy. Today furthermore, unfortunately, its better to secure a huge penalty or forfeiture than to apprehend criminals and face months if not years in court – the revenue target is the primary goal. Money drives both the state and the criminal underworld.

Maybe I will be censured yet. Nonetheless, I will conclude with exercising some freedom of expression concerning views on what I believe fundamentally contributes to criminal and irrational behaviour. The democratic way of modern life has indeed perpetuated a lot of freedoms. With this, however, comes a corresponding responsibility and ability to discern between what is right or wrong. Freedom comes in both guises, sometimes simultaneously so as to confuse the mind – not unlike the ‘forbidden fruit’ in the Garden of Eden – making a choice between the right or wrong path. A flaw in democracy is that it tends to present everything in a “yes we can!” mentality. What this does is ‘challenge’ the individual or group to ‘achieve’. There might be little wrong with this, however, there are no documented guidelines on how to ‘achieve’, hence it is concluded that one must ‘achieve at all costs’. So what has this to do with corruption? The multiplicity of (false) ‘comforts’ offered by the modern world tend to excite the senses and numb the conscience. After all democracy tends to advocate equality in everything, so what can be wrong with a bit of excess, since one has freedom of choice? Wrong! unfortunately, this is the very mentality which drives ‘corrupt’ behaviour. There will always be consequences. Add to this indiscretion some measure of peer pressure, jealousy, or avarice and you have a recipe for a corrupt organisation.

The causes are multi-facetted –

  • The blatant disrespect of corporate structures in not recognising the need for staff to spend quality time with their families. (Less work = less profit and poor returns)
  • Parents too focused on personal gain or pleasing the shareholder, rather than tending to the real needs of their children to build honest citizens.
  • Ill-disciplined ‘educators’ who care little about their ‘learners’ and more about their rights!
  • Law enforcement agencies focused on revenue collection rather than law enforcement.
  • Lack of knowledge amongst politicians and heads of government agencies as to what their real mission ought to be.
  • Lack of a real support base within law enforcement agencies to deal with the threats being faced by their organisation.
  • Lack of role models in our society.

Is it little wonder then that the majority of tendencies today follow corruption? I’ve yet to note a single statesman (sorry states-person) who is morally upright. I would however like to concede that at least that maverick Prof. Jonathan Jansen (University of the Orange Freestate) is not afraid to stand up and talk straight.

Those interested in the topic of organised crime in Africa should can an interesting analysis (below) which the Internet has freely allowed me to obtain. ICT is without doubt a necessary evil!

Related articles

Durban – Harbour mafia busted!

A 3-year covert investigation into a multi-billion rand racket at the Durban harbour has exposed an international mafia, allegedly bribing customs and police officials to allow in container-loads of contraband.

This week, a former Sars customs official was taken by surprise when Hawks and Sars investigators swooped on his Umbilo home and arrested him on 80 counts of alleged corruption. Etienne Kellerman, 47, a former Sars anti-corruption task team member, appeared in the Durban Regional Court on Tuesday. He was released on R100 000 bail and the matter was adjourned to next week. Kellerman is suspected of receiving substantial benefits for allowing contraband through. It is alleged that Sars lost millions of rand in revenue as a result. He resigned from Sars three years ago, days after he was quizzed by Sars investigators about his alleged role in the racket. His job had been to profile and identify high risk companies and containers entering the country.

A further seven Sars officials from Durban and Johannesburg were suspended for their alleged roles in the smuggling racket. Hawks investigator and project manager of this undercover operation, Colonel Brian Dafel, said that in coming weeks they would swoop on 100 more suspects in the country, including Sars officials, police and syndicate members, on charges ranging from racketeering, corruption, money laundering, extortion, murder and attempted murder.

Warrant Officer - Johan NortjeHe said the investigation was triggered by informers who tipped them off about the alleged crooked activities and racketeering at the harbour. The undercover investigation was a joint operation by the Hawks, Sars, independent law enforcement agencies and other key role players, Dafel said. He said they were also closing in on suspects believed to have ordered the hit on Warrant Officer Johan Nortjé, an officer in the police’s protection security service. He was responsible for investigating smuggling of goods and drugs through Durban harbour. A hit was allegedly ordered on his life days after he made a R100m counterfeit bust at the harbour. Nortjé was gunned down outside his Montclair home on January 17 last year, 10 days after he had made the bust.

“Nortjé was one of the few honest cops. He was aware of the container racket and was determined to expose it. He was killed because he was hampering the operation of the syndicate members,” Dafel said.

“This is a very dangerous investigation that involves extremely high levels of corruption. “Durban harbour is the biggest port authority that handles 40 percent of the containers nationally. In the past two years, during this investigation, we have seized over R1 billion worth of counterfeit goods and contraband.” He said that several witnesses had been placed in witness protection programmes as they feared for their lives. “People’s lives have been threatened and hits have been ordered. But, none of this will deter this investigation.

Dafel told the Daily News that investigations had revealed that certain SARS and police officials were working in teams between KZN and Gauteng. “This could not be done alone. They worked in groups, including those who cleared the documentation to those who inspected the containers and gave them the final clearance.

Thousands of containers pass through the harbour daily and it is impossible to check each and every one. That is how the counterfeit goods and contraband got through so easily. The syndicate members also communicate through cellphones making it a very smooth operation. He said every member of the syndicate was paid for his or her role in allowing the illegal goods through. The potential value of the illegal commodities was between R10 and R20 million for each container. The international mafia pays bribes of up to R30 000 per container that is allowed to pass through customs undetected. It is reported that one of the biggest problems is the clearing agents who work in cahoots with the police and syndicate members.

Dafel said many of the SARS and SAPS officials who were being investigated stood accused of allowing counterfeit goods or contraband to enter the country illegally, or under-evaluating containers. Since the investigation started, much stricter measures are in place at the harbour making it difficult to smuggle goods into the country. “We have closed the gap significantly for any form of corruption to take place. Also, staff know that they will be arrested and charged if they break the law,” Dafel said.

He said they were also working closely with people abroad and international law enforcement agencies to close in on the racketeers. “There are big name international companies, mainly from China, that are also being investigated. In fact, the goods imported from China are the biggest problem.” Source: Daily News E-edition

Related articles

Tolls ‘slush fund’ a threat to US trucking

US TruckingThe American Trucking Association slammed the “irresponsible behaviour of some tolling authorities which, along with complicit state officials, seemingly view toll revenue as a slush fund for investment in all manner of projects, programmes and activities which have nothing to do with maintaining their highways, bridges and tunnels”.

The Chief Financial Officer of National Freight Incorporated (NFI), told last week’s hearing of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security that New Jersey-based NFI had paid $14 million in tolls last year. He said that as a result of this his company has been forced to re-route their trucks to less efficient secondary roads, which raises costs and increases congestion and safety concerns.

Further increases planned for tolls on the six interstate bridges and tunnels between New York and New Jersey, operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), would by 2015 raise the charges by 163%, to a total of $105 per truck – nearly three times higher than any other toll in the country. By 2015, a trip from Baltimore to New York City will cost a five-axle truck more than $209 in tolls.

He said the authority had refused to reveal where the extra revenue would be spent, but it was clear that billions would be diverted to major PANYNJ projects like raising the Bayonne Bridge to accomodate bigger ships at the port. He added: “The most egregious use of toll revenue is the approximately $11 billion dedicated to the completion of the World Trade Center office buildings. It is unclear why trucking companies and commuters are being forced to foot the bill for a real estate project.”

He told the hearing: “The process and the outcome points to an authority with unchecked power that shows little regard for the impacts of its decisions on the community which it purports to serve.”

The tolls distorted the market by penalising vehicles that use toll roads and rewarding those diverting to local routes. No doubt this article strikes a ‘tender nerve’ for truckers and commuters in South Africa around this time – SANRAL vs Public. Source:

Vetch’s Pier – a relic of floored planning

With recent developments regarding the proposed Durban dug-out port, a colleague of mine shared this gem of an article.

Vetch’s pier (Durban, South Africa) has redeemed itself by becoming a marine sanctuary. Historically, however, it is an expensive relic, a monument to flawed planning, poor workmanship and economic frustration.

Although potentially a major seaport, Durban’s bay was little more than an inaccessible lagoon before dredging and the construction of the north and south piers over a century ago unlocked its real worth. Nature guarded its entrance in the form of shifting sandbanks which made access to the safety of the inner harbor unpredictable and hazardous. As a result entry was restricted to small vessels drawing less than three metres of water. All other shipping had to anchor offshore and endure the extremes of wind and sea. Not surprisingly 66 ships were blown ashore on Durban’s beachfront between 1845 and 1885.

It was obvious from the outset to the British settlers that Natal’s economic prospects depended on the development of Durban harbour. For almost 50 years from 1850 the ‘harbour issue’ was the hardy annual of Natal politics and the correspondence columns of newspapers. Various plans were put forward, that of Captain James Vetch gaining the approval of Governor John Scott in 1857. Vetch, an engineer attached to the Admiralty in London, never actually visited Durban, yet he produced a report and plan to improve the harbour. Despite misgivings, it was rushed through the Natal legislature in October 1859 along with its hefty price tag -£165,000.

Vetch’s solution was to enclose the natural entrance to the harbour by means of two breakwaters, one curving northwards from the base of the Bluff headland and the other curving southwards from present day Ushaka beach. Besides the engineering challenge which that posed, Vetch’s plan ignored the prevailing wind an ocean current directions. But in August 1861 when construction of the northern breakwater commenced, such concerns were lost amidst the optimism of a growing economy and the belief that Vetch’s plan would resolve the frustrations of navigating the entrance to the harbour. A comment in the Natal Mercury on 13 July 1861 summed up the buoyant mood of colonists when it stated that Vetch’s plan would herald ‘new circumstances and be the scene of a busy, all pervading and prosperous industry.

The site engineer, George Abernethy, encountered difficulties with Vetch’s plan from the outset. The method of construction was impractical: sections of wooden framework filled with rubble simply collapsed in the surf, moreover, the contractor, Thomas Jackson, lacked the capacity to carry out the construction. Early in 1863 it was apparent that the six year project was stalled. Yet £90,000 of the budgeted £165,000 had been spent while less than ten percent of the work had been completed. Financial reasons and poor construction methods saw  Vetch’s pier abandoned in 1864. In time the ocean reduced it to what it is today. Both in design and placement, the small craft harbour now being proposed ignores the same natural forces that made Vetch’s plan impractical. Besides, it specifically ignores the pounding effects of the cyclone swells which emanate occasionally from the Mozambique channel.

In May 1864 a furious Natal Legislative Council demanded a detailed report on the Vetch project. In June the contractor walked off the job and left Natal. The Report tabled in August proved an embarrassing indictment. It found that no oversight had been exercised by Treasury officials on certificates for amounts payable and that the contractor had received payments in excess to that which he was entitled. It was also noted that freight for some materials had been paid for twice; that material had been ordered which was in excess of actual needs. To top it all, £113,500 or 70 percent of the allocated budget, had been spent on a project that was scarcely 20 percent complete and the problem of accessing Durban harbour was no closer to resolution.

Far from invigorating Natal’s economy, the submerged finger of an incomplete pier named after its designer, Captain Vetch, proved a drain on the colonial treasury for years to come, interest on the loan for the project amounting to about 17 percent of total revenue. A project born out of economic frustration left a legacy of even greater economic frustration. Until the 1880s Durban harbour languished having gained a reputation as a port of high charges and long delays. But from 1886 when dredging operations began, followed by extension of the breakwaters, the depth of the entrance channel improved. By 1892 it averaged over four metres allowing larger ships to cross the bar.

But the way forward was dogged by controversy. Two camps developed: one which saw the solution in dredging, the other in the extension of the north pier. So great was the agitation that it led to the fall of the government of Harry Escombe in October 1897. Ultimately, a combination of the scour facilitated by the north and south piers and the effects of dredging resolved access to Durban harbour. In 1904, the Armadale Castle, drawing 6,7 metres of water, became the first mail-steamer to enter the port.

Although incomplete and a non-starter, the remains of Vetch’s pier should serve as a reminder of the power of the ocean and the need for fearless scrutiny of public projects. Source: Duncan Du Bois (Ward Councillor) and Facts About Durban

Economic sanctions and international trade

Despite global automation and harmonisation of trade, customs operations and procedures, the following article exemplifies the continued need and importance of knowledgeable trade practitioners and customs specialists. Human intellect and ‘expertise’ will forever play a critical role in the interpretation international trade law and national customs procedure.

Long used by governments to punish rogue countries, regimes, entities and individuals, trade and economic sanctions impact an ever-widening range of goods, technology and services. Recent developments in Iran, Syria and Libya, for example, resulted in far-reaching sanctions by Australia, Canada, the European Union and its 27 Member States, the United Nations, the United States and others. The complexity of sanctions and the speed with which governments implement them to address rapidly changing political situations create serious compliance challenges.

Companies are therefore well advised to implement compliance from management through all levels of sales, logistics and finance. The stakes are extremely high because compliance failures—even unintentional ones—can result in the imposition of substantial fines, debarment from government contracts, damage to public reputation and even imprisonment. Recent penalties illustrate the risks and the high governmental enforcement priority for trade sanctions. These include fines of up to US$536 million imposed by US and UK regulators against financial institutions and major businesses. Individuals may also be subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Anyone involved in cross-border transactions therefore needs to determine if their conduct and that of persons acting on their behalf is regulated by trade sanctions. At a minimum, businesses must understand: which countries, regimes and individuals are targeted by trade sanctions; who is obliged to comply; which transactions are prohibited or restricted; and which authorisations may be available or required for any restricted action.

Businesses should also consider the long reach of US and EU sanctions. US sanctions generally apply to “US persons” wherever they are located in the world and to anyone located in the United States. Similarly, EU sanctions apply to “EU persons” wherever they are located in the world and to anyone located in the European Union. Adding to the breadth of coverage, US rules prohibit “facilitation”, which means neither persons nor companies subject to the rules may support a transaction undertaken by another party, including a foreign affiliate, from which a US person would be prohibited from engaging in directly. EU rules likewise prohibit covered persons from infringing sanctions rules indirectly – so much for economic freedom!

Law firm McDermott Will & Emery recommends that companies should take appropriate steps to minimise the risk of infringing trade sanctions by introducing the following safeguards:

  • Require due diligence in connection with all transactions. This should involve at least the screening of all counterparties against the ever-changing sanctions lists that identify the countries, regimes, entities and persons blacklisted. Trade sanctions can apply to goods, technology licensing and the provision of technical assistance, and to ancillary services such as financing, insurance and transport.
  • Establish internal procedures to ensure prompt legal review in the event a transaction with a sanctioned party is identified.
  • Check that the due diligence checklist for merger or acquisition transactions includes an assessment for compliance with trade sanctions.

Source: McDermott Will & Emery 

New Durban dug-out Port – tenders released

State-owned freight logistics group Transnet has followed up its recent R1.8-billion purchase of the old Durban International Airport site, in KwaZulu-Natal, with the release of a number of separate tenders in support of its proposal to develop, in phases, a new dig-out port on the property.

The first phase, which was currently scheduled for completion in 2019, was expected to require an initial investment of R50-billion, with the balance of the project to be completed by 2037.

The first request for proposals (RFP) relates to the appointment of a transaction adviser for the project. The adviser will provide technical assistance relating to the establishment of a business model for the development of the harbour.

Transnet currently envisages a phased development of a facility comprising 16 container berths, five automotive berths and four liquid bulk berths. Its high-level infrastructure plan indicated that the container terminals would have the collective capacity to handle 9.6-million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, once all four phases were completed. That, the group argued, would be sufficient to address South Africa’s container capacity requirements to 2040.

The transaction adviser would be expected to complement and supplement the work, resources and expertise that Transnet had dedicated to the project internally. The consultant was expected to cover the legal, financial, environmental, economic and technical aspects of the proposed development. In order to facilitate the opportunity for financial planning and policy engagement, it is necessary to complete the assignment within an 18-month period.

The second RFP invites consultants to conduct conceptual and prefeasibility studies for the development . Transnet will employ a four-stage project lifecycle process for its capital expansion projects, with the two front-end loading (FEL) studies making up the first two stages. FEL implies upfront planning and engineering in order to reduce, as much as possible, the risk of scope creep and to ensure financial accuracy for the project. The FEL-1, or conceptual study, is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2013, while the FEL-2 study should be finalised by the end of March 2014. Source: Creamer Media

US Customs – Testing new way to decrease border dwell-time for travellers

In an ongoing effort to reduce wait times at the International Bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations will pilot a project to bring vehicles to the inspection booths in less time.
The stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes and will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. “Efficacy in movement is paramount to this project’s success. We are always trying to improve the flow of legitimate traffic while enforcing the laws of the United States,” said Patrick Wilson, CBP Sault Ste. Marie Assistant Port Director.

The Sault Ste Marie port of entry has a unique design that separates commercial traffic from car traffic, creating an upper and lower plaza. The focus of this project will be on the upper plaza only and will not affect the flow of traffic on the lower plaza.

Stop signs will be placed in all three upper lanes beginning Friday, April 20. The stop signs will shorten the “pull up” distance to the booth. This allows vehicles to queue up quicker. The stop signs will be placed near Radio Frequency Identification readers where the traveling public can display their Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative RFID-enabled document to pre-populate the officer’s computer screens.

CBP is testing the theory that they can process more travelers each hour by reducing the amount of time it takes each vehicle to get to the inspecting officer. This pilot project will incorporate a two-stop sign process. Upon entering the upper plaza, vehicles will be required to stop at the first existing stop sign. As the vehicle ahead clears, travelers will move to the next new stop sign and present their ID to the RFID reader. Once the vehicle at the inspection booth clears, travelers will proceed to the inspection booth.

Vehicles with trailers/campers are asked to use the lower plaza lanes so as not to impede the functionality of installed equipment. LED signage will be adjusted to notify motorists of this change.

CBP officers will direct traffic periodically during this project to help educate travelers on this new process. “We continue to look for efficiencies in our processes to improve the border crossing experience. If we can save a couple of seconds of inspection time per vehicle, the time savings should reduce each traveler’s wait,” said Assistant Port Director Wilson. Source:

Mozambique Tomato Mafia – Customs link?

Mozambique’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Armando Inroga, has promised that the people responsible for restricting the entry of imported tomatoes into Mozambique will be arrested, reports Thursday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”. Since early March a group of speculators has successfully pushed up the price of tomatoes in Maputo markets by obstructing cross-border trade, sometimes physically seizing trucks hired by small scale Mozambican importers. The group, in collaboration with some South African citizens, has taken up positions on the South African side of the border and is preventing other importers from bringing tomatoes into Mozambique. To achieve this, they evidently enjoy the protection of some people within the South African police or customs service. Huh! Really?

As a result, the price of tomatoes in Maputo’s main wholesale market has more than doubled in the space of five weeks, rising from 200-250 meticais (about seven to nine US dollars) to 500 to 600 meticais for a 22 kilo crate.

Inroga described the obstruction to trade in tomatoes as “illicit and criminal” and in violation of the rules governing the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Free Trade Area. He said that the Mozambican and South African governments are now working together to guarantee the normal circulation of people and goods on both sides of the border. The government sent a team from the National Inspectorate of Economic Activities (INAE) to work with the South African authorities, with the support of the Mozambican consulate in the eastern South African city of Nelspruit.

“The South Africans have begun to investigate these acts to identify the culprits and arrest them”, said Inroga. “Very soon the people associated with this movement to obstruct cross-border trade will be detained”

Mozambique resorts to importing tomatoes from South Africa because national production is insufficient to meet demand, particularly in Maputo which consumes 40 tonnes of tomatoes a day. Source: Noticias, Mozambique

Customs Core Skills – in danger of extinction or a casualty of progress?

The recent death of a close friend and colleague – Lester Millar – brings to mind, once again, the dire situation of a dwindling ‘knowledge base’ in the area of Customs’ core competency. In an era where most customs or border management authorities are happy to employ people with a variety of tertiary qualifications – with the idea that this alone will be sufficient to ‘arm and support’ them in the field of customs/border control and management – what happened to the skills of yesteryear which allowed both government and trade practitioners to exercise their technical abilities to agree or disagree amicably on a customs tariff or valuation interpretation that could result in thousands of rands (ZAR) going to state coffers or the retailer’s bank account?

Many would argue that with the extent of automation and modern techniques, customs core skills are no longer valid or even necessary. Indeed the extent and design of systems goes so far as removing the relevance of human intuition and decision-making. Today we have automated risk management, automated duty calculation and declaration processing, automated cargo and goods accounting, any even a call centre – so is there really a role for a Customs specialist in the 21st century? Customs Managers today have their reports and other so-called ‘empirical data’ to rely on for decision-making and strategizing. The year-end revenue rush, it-self, relies on such computer generated reports negating the need for an internal ‘think-tank’ to devise means of collecting the hidden revenue before the deadline.

For those in the trade, a similar situation exists, with some difference however. The traditional customs clearance and cargo reporting process is highly mechanised these days and if your systems are up to the task, you can rest assured staff can remain glued to their seats and screens without having to venture to the Customs House. Here too, lies a significant change. The traditional Custom House no longer exists and is basically home to the ‘Customs Frontline’ which deals with ‘physical’ intervention and other trade services. Tariff, Valuation and Origin are now confined to back-office functions accessible via a call centre or tiered response mechanisms embedded in Customs’ new automated workflow; that is, if physical or telephonic access to regional customs specialists have been removed.

Few can dispute the advantages of technology supported processes. Yet, when things go array, even the knowledgeable people have difficulty in resolving an issue. Some suggest that human discretion is dangerous and counter-productive, which perhaps is true if left to an uncouth, power-crazy customs or border control official. Yet, ‘discretion’ is a tenet most necessary for interpretative and cognitive skills which once most Customs Officials used to have.

So what is this core competency to which I refer? First of all Customs competency requires an officer to reason, interpret and apply the customs law in the “fairest” possible way based on the facts at his/her disposal. So it means the officer must have an ability to discern; importantly between right and wrong. Discernment must also take into account an acute understanding of previous/historical evidence relating to a case. For a customs official, it will be important to comprehend the rights and legal obligations of the parties concerned, as well as the documentation relating to the case/transaction. Moreover, where a case/transaction deals with a matter of ‘tariff’, or ‘valuation’ or ‘origin’ the officer must at least have the basic knowledge and skills of the internationally defined rules of interpretation in these disciplines. I say ‘at least’, because in any of the mentioned areas, it may require an expert opinion to further conclude the outcome of a matter.

While automation will take care of validation and computation to the n’th degree, storing and retrieving vast amounts of data in milliseconds, the fact remains that a competent ‘human being’ is still required to preside over a complex decision. Good systems are built on ‘rules’, not exceptions. It is the latter therefore that requires ‘customs core competency’ to resolve.

Our dear friend and colleague Lester was gifted with a phenomenal ability to distill and comprehend information. This knowledge made him one of our finest, and sadly virtually last remaining tariff experts. Add to this, a wonderful and helpful nature and willingness to serve the public – a not too common trait nowadays. Adios Lester…..since we did not fully profit from your time with us, may we at least profit from our loss!

East Africa – Harmonisation of Border Procedures

Operations of all agencies working at border posts should be harmonised if the East African countries are to easily facilitate movement of goods and persons at their borders, Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) has said. TMEA is a multi-donor funded agency that provides support for increased regional trade and economic integration in East Africa.

It takes a trader importing goods from the EAC member countries an average of 30 minutes to process documents, at the Gatuna/Katuna border. Border agencies need to collaborate on planning, monitoring, organisation and other related activities to ease the movement of traders, according to Theo Lyimo, TMEA’s director of Integrated Border Management and One Stop Border Posts.

This was at the sidelines of a one-day workshop on the establishment of the Integrated Border Management Concept and presentation on the final design of Kagitumba One Stop Border Post facilities. “Integrated border management should have a system controlling all the agencies at the borders and this will help to eliminate all trade challenges affecting the region including high prices of products, high costs of transport and others,” he noted. He cited the Chirundu Integrated border management between Zambia and Zimbabwe which he said had totally cleared trade barriers between the two countries.

However, though the One Stop Border Post (OSBP) had been introduced at some borders of the EAC member countries, they are yet to yield the expected results as traders still encounter some challenges.

The establishment of Integrated Border Management has been recognised as one of the ten building blocks of Customs in the 21st Century, a new strategic perspective and policy agreed upon by heads of the world’s customs administrations to shape the role of Customs in the current century, a century with unique demands.

Better border management entails coordination and cooperation among all the relevant authorities and agencies involved in border regulatory requirements,” said Tusabe Jane Nkubana, chairman of the exporters association, welcomed the border management saying that traders have always been affected by delays at the border posts leading to an increase in the cost of goods.

Delays at the borders are some of the non-tariff barriers affecting us in the region, and if the operations of agencies are harmonised, this would reduce on the time we spend clearing goods at the borders. Transport costs in East Africa are regarded amongst the highest in the world damaging the region’s ability to trade competitively in the international market, according to economic experts. Source:

Border Posts, Checkpoints and Intra-African Trade

You may recall earlier this year the African Development Bank and the WCO agreed to a partnership to advance the economic development of African countries by assisting Customs administrations in their reform and modernization efforts.

The AfDB’s regional infrastructure financing and the WCO’s technical Customs expertise will complement each other and improve the efficiency of our efforts to facilitate trade which includes collaboration in identifying, developing and implementing Customs capacity building initiatives by observing internationally agreed best practice and supporting Customs cooperation and regional integration in Africa.

In addition, the partnership will seek to promote a knowledge partnership, including research and knowledge sharing in areas of common interest, as well as close institutional dialogue to ensure a coherent approach and to identify comparative advantages as well as complementarities between the WCO and AfDB. Customs professionals, trans-national transporters and trade practitioners will find the featured article of some interest. It provides a synopsis of the key inhibitors for trade on the continent, and will hopefully mobilise “African expertise” in the provision of solutions and capacity building initiatives.

GNC – not just another acronym, but the latest Customs buzz-word

WCO - Globally Networked Customs

With the WCO Council Sessions later in June this year, it is opportune to discuss perhaps one of the single most important developments in Customs Inc, the “Globally Networked Customs (GNC)” concept which aims to realize connectivity, data exchange, and cooperative work amongst the world’s customs administrations.

GNC is set to play a very important role in promoting trade facilitation, enhancing trade efficiency and safeguarding trade security; it will also greatly influence international rules and the development of the customs end-to-end operational process. By and large the SAFE Framework, WCO Data Model and the Revised Kyoto Convention provide specific standards for the development and implementation of national customs legal, procedural and automated systems. It is the GNC that will in future “industrialise” and harmonise Customs-2-Customs (C2C) information exchange requirements which underpin a country’s bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

Briefly the need for GNC arises from the exchanges of information underpinning International Agreements in the commercial domain. These take time and are costly to implement. They are all different from each other creating diversity both for Members and trade. This is because each one of these agreements is built anew, handcrafted and tailor-made to meet the needs at hand. This approach will not scale up and countries broking an increasing number of International Customs Agreements are already encountering difficulty to maintain their delivery plan in line with their international policy ambitions. Below you will find links to 2 documents explaining the GNC. More information on the GNC will be provided once approved by the WCO’s Policy Commission later on in June 2012. Source: WCO.

Related articles

Dry Ports – their growing role in international trade

Transnet Freight Rail

With rapid regional development of African port infrastructure and regional road corridors, the importance of inland multi-modal hubs is gaining traction. Increasing inter-African port competitiveness, with some countries happy to liberalize their economic trade engagements for increased foreign direct investment will put pressure on traditional emerging economies. In recent weeks there have been several public utterances concerning South Africa’s perceived demise as the ‘gateway to Africa’.

“If a gateway is supposed to be a transmission belt between global and regional markets and production facilities, the question should be whether South Africa can use its physical and material infrastructure to fulfil a connecting function between Africa and the rest of the world”, says Peter Draper senior fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs. 

Global player General Electric recently chose Nairobi as its sub-Saharan hub – following companies like Coca Cola, Nestle and Heineken – and it based its decision partly, say trade academics, on South Africa’s unpredictable policy environment. With the rehabilitation of the East and West Coasts of Africa, some of it by resource companies needing to find more convenient export routes, trade patterns are starting to change in the region. In time, it is likely that Durban will be just one more port handling regional trade, rather than the main one.

A dry port is generally a rail terminal situated in an inland location with rail connections to one or more container seaports. Container freight trains run excursions between the seaports and the dry port, on a service timetable that is integrated with the schedules of the container ships arriving at the seaport.

Seaports have grown larger as world trade has increased, and they now lack space to expand and are restricted by congestion on the various routes into the port. While the access to the port from the sea may be highly efficient, with radar-guided systems for tracking the ships and sophisticated ship-to-shore facilities for speedy loading and unloading, land routes out of the seaport can be slow and congested.

The road and rail links are often too congested and inadequate to deal with the traffic from the port. This problem can be eased by a dry port consisting of rail and multi-modal terminals situated inland from the seaport.

In many instances, particularly in South Africa, port facilities are in close proximity to the center of the city, because historically the city grew up around the port. This means that road traffic both to and from the port has to make a circuit through the city along congested motorways or smaller roads. This problem can partially be overcome by the more efficient use of existing rail links to move the freight from the quayside to an inland dry port. The last two decades saw a decline in the ability of the rail service to meet increasing dry port to seaport needs. Over utilization of road transport not only deteriorates the roads but causes significant bottlenecks at sea port terminals.

The infrastructure available at the dry port is similar to that of a seaport in terms of the logistics and the facilities for importers and exporters. The dry port is equipped to handle cargo and transfer freight to warehouses or open storage.

Development of dry ports has become possible owing to the increase in multi-modal transit of goods utilising road, rail and sea. This in turn has become increasingly common due to the spread of containerisation which has facilitated the quick transfer of freight from sea to rail or from rail to road. Dry ports can therefore play an important part in ensuring the efficient transit of goods from a factory in their country of origin to a retail distribution point in the country of destination. Source: