Lesotho Revenue Authority to acquire two AS&E ZBV Mobile Screening Systems

AS&E's Cargo and vehicle screening system deployed in 55 countries

AS&E’s Cargo and vehicle screening system deployed in 55 countries

American Science and Engineering, Inc. (“AS&E”), has announced the receipt of an order for two ZBV® mobile screening systems from a new international customer, the Kingdom of Lesotho. The ZBV systems will screen vehicles and cargo for threats and trade fraud on its border with South Africa to facilitate trade and counter smuggling.

The Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) has launched a Customs Modernization Program aimed at simplifying border procedures while speeding up the inspection process. The ZBV systems, with its safe and effective technology, ease-of-use, and high-throughput capability will greatly support this initiative.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to support the LRA in its Customs Modernization Program and to help secure the Kingdom of Lesotho,” said Chuck Dougherty, AS&E’s president and CEO. “The ZBV system has been proven effective for anti-smuggling programs, with one customer recently reporting a 54% increase in tobacco seizuresi in a four month period. With the ZBV system’s outstanding field reports, we continue to add new countries to our installed base in key geographic markets and expand our market penetration of Z Backscatter® technology in Africa.”

LRA spokesperson Mr. Pheello Mphana says, “The LRA is pleased to acquire this advanced technology to support our modernization process. Following our detailed examination of non-intrusive inspection systems, the ZBV provides the optimum solution to deploy on our borders to facilitate trade by reducing inspection delays and the cost of compliance, improve border control and detect illicit cross-border movement.”

The highly mobile ZBV® system screening system allows for immediate deployment and rapid inspection to reveal explosives, drugs, currency, alcohol, cigarettes and other organic threats or contraband. With over 730 systems sold to date, AS&E’s ZBV system is used by leading government agencies, border authorities, law enforcement, military organizations, and security agencies in more than 64 countries. Source: AS&E

Australian Border Force – Big changes ‘down under’!

Australian Border ForceThe Australian Government has announced changes to the immigration and border protection portfolio in relation to future border protection arrangements.

From 1 July 2015, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service will be consolidated into a single Department of Immigration and Border Protection. At this time, the Australian Border Force, a single frontline operational border agency, will be established within the department.

The Australian Border Force will draw together the operational border, investigations, compliance, detention and enforcement functions of the two existing agencies. Policy, regulatory and corporate functions will combine within the broader department.

The name, in itself, marks a distinct shift in world customs operation. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s the first customs and border authority called a ‘force’. The demise of traditional ‘Customs & Excise Departments’ in the wake of 9/11 appears set to continue as sovereign states seek new ways to combat cross-border crime. There is in reality no ‘bench mark’ nowadays. Developing countries tend to favour the revenue authority model (as dictated by their sponsors) – mainly due to the fact that customs revenue remains a critical component of their economies. Developed countries are migrating in ever-increasing number to border agencies with more focus on security issues.

For more information about the changes, read the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection’s speech announcing the new arrangements on 9 May 2014 and the Australian Border Force booklet.

Source: Australian Customs Service

Australia to buy US drones for border patrol

Triton drone surveillance fleet to be based at Edinburgh air force base in Adelaide (ABC News)

Triton drone surveillance fleet to be based at Edinburgh air force base in Adelaide (ABC News)

Australia today announced it will buy unmanned surveillance drones from the US to protect its borders and commercial interests.

The fleet, to be based in Adelaide, would provide the defence force “with unprecedented maritime surveillance capabilities”, PM Tony Abbott said. The drones would also be used to protect energy resources, he added. The drones, which are still being tested by the US navy, can remain airborne for up to 33 hours. The number of drones to be purchased is yet to be determined.

“We do need to have a strong defence – national security is as important as economic security when it comes to the good government of our country,” Abbott said. “Given that Australia has responsibility for something like 11% of the world’s oceans, it’s very important that we’ve got a very effective maritime surveillance capability.” The MQ-4C Triton drones, which are unmanned aerial vehicles used for surveillance, can cruise at altitudes up to 55,000 feet. The vehicle’s size is comparable to a small aircraft with a wingspan of 40 metres (131 feet).

In Australia, the drones are to be stationed at Adelaide’s air force base. Abbott said the purchase plan would boost South Australia’s economy with about A$100m ($90m, £54m) in investments. The announcement comes as Australia steps up its maritime border patrols to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat from neighboring Indonesia. Source: The Nation

Border Management in Southern Africa: Lessons with respect to Policy and Institutional Reforms

The folk at Tralac have provided some welcomed insight to the challenges and the pains in regard to ‘regionalisation’. No doubt readers in Member States will be familiar with these issues but powerless within themselves to do anything due to conflict with national imperatives or agendas. Much of this is obvious, especially the ‘buzzwords’ – globally networked customs, one stop border post, single window, cloud computing, and the plethora of WCO standards, guidelines and principles – yet, the devil always lies in the details. While the academics have walked-the-talk, it remains to be seen if the continent’s governments have the commitment to talk-the-walk!

Regional integration is a key element of the African strategy to deal with problems of underdevelopment, small markets, a fragmented continent and the absence of economies of scale. The agreements concluded to anchor such inter-state arrangements cover mainly trade in goods; meaning that trade administration focuses primarily on the physical movement of merchandise across borders. The services aspects of cross-border trade are neglected. And there are specific local needs such as the wide-spread extent of informal trading across borders.

Defragmenting Africa WBThis state of affairs calls for specific governance and policy reforms. Effective border procedures and the identification of non-tariff barriers will bring major cost benefits and unlock huge opportunities for cross-border trade in Africa. The costs of trading remain high, which prevents potential exporters from competing in global and regional markets. The cross-border production networks which are a salient feature of development in especially East Asia have yet to materialise in Africa.

Policy makers have started paying more attention to trade-discouraging non-tariff barriers, but why does the overall picture still show little progress? The 2012 World Bank publication De-Fragmenting Africa – Deepening Regional Trade Integration in Goods and Services shows that one aspect needs to be singled out in particular:  that trade facilitation measures have become a key instrument to create a better trading environment.

The main messages of this WB study are:

  • Effective regional integration is more than simply removing tariffs – it is about addressing on-the-ground constraints that paralyze the daily operations of ordinary producers and traders.
  • This calls for regulatory reform and, equally important, for capacity building among the institutions that are charged with enforcing the regulations.
  • The integration agenda must cover services as well as goods……services are critical, job-creating inputs into the competitive edge of almost all other activities.
  • Simultaneous action is required at both the supra-national and national levels. Regional communities can provide the framework for reform, for example, by bringing together regulators to define harmonised standards or to agree on mutual      recognition of the qualification of professionals……. but responsibility for implementation lies with each member country.

African governments are still reluctant to implement the reforms needed to address these issues. They are sensitive about loss of ‘sovereign policy space’ and are not keen to establish supra-national institutions. They are also opposed to relaxing immigration controls. The result is that border control functions have been exercised along traditional lines and not with sufficient emphasis on trade facilitation benefits. This is changing but specific technical and governance issues remain unresolved, despite the fact that the improved border management entails various technical aspects which are not politically sensitive.

The required reforms involve domestic as well as regional dimensions. Regional integration is a continental priority but implementation is compounded by legal and institutional uncertainties and burdens caused by overlapping membership of Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The monitoring of compliance remains a specific challenge. Continue reading →

Thick Borders – Thin Trade

It’s quite amazing the number of reports featured in various african media across the continent pushing the ‘free trade’ agenda. The incumbent governments on the other hand are naturally concerned with dwindling tax collections, while at the same time increasing incidents of graft, collusion, and corruption run rampant at the border. While the following article states the obvious, unfortunately, nowhere will you find or read a practical approach which deals with increased ‘automation’ at borders and the consequential re-distribution of ‘bodies’ to other forms of gainful employment. Its jobs that will be on the line. Few governments wish to taunt their electorates – non-essential jobs are a fact of life and are destined to stay if that is what will earn votes and a further term in power. Moreover, there is no question of removing internal borders with the emphasis on costly ‘One-Stop Border’ facilities. To some extent the international donor community won’t mind this as there’s at least some profit and influence in it for them.

Poverty in Sub- Saharan Africa is a man-made phenomenon driven by internal warped policies and international trade systems. The continent cannot purport to seek to grow while it blocks the movement of goods and services through tariff regimes at the same time Tariff and non-tariff barriers contribute to inefficient delivery systems, epileptic cross-border trading and thriving of illicit/contraband goods.

This ultimately harms the local and regional economy. Delays at ports of delivery, different working hours and systems of control across the continent, unnecessary police roadblocks and poor infrastructure condemn countries to prisons of inter-regional and intra-regional trade poverty.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, removal of internal trade barriers would lead to US$25 billion per year of intra-regional exports in Africa, an increase by 15,4 percent by 2022. Making African border points crossings more trade efficient would increase intra-regional trade by 22 percent come 2020. Trade barriers in East Africa Community alone increase the cost of doing business by 20 percent to 40 percent.

Such barriers include the number of roadblocks within each country, cross- border charges for trucks and weighing of transit vehicles on several points on highways. Kenya is grappling to reduce the number of its roadblocks from 36 to five and Tanzania from 30 to 15. Sub-Saharan Africa records an average port delay of 12 days compared to seven days in Latin America and less than four days in Europe. Africa is lagging behind!

In West Africa, Ghanaian exports to Nigeria are faced with informal payments and delays as the goods transit across the country borders whether there is proper documentation. In the Great Lakes Region, an exporter is faced with 17 agencies at the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo each with a separate monetary charge sheet.

A South African retail chain Shoprite reportedly pays up to US$20 000 a week on permits to sell products in Zambia. Each Shoprite truck is accompanied with 1 600 documents in order to get its export loads across a Southern African Development Community border. Tariff and non-tariff barriers simply thicken the wall that traps Africans in economic poverty.

The new African Union chair should push for urgent steps to lower barriers to trade within Africa. Border control agencies need retraining and border country governments need to integrate their processes; long truck queues waiting to cross border points should not be used as an indicator of efficiency.

If it takes a loaded truck one hour to cover 100 kilometres; a four-hour wait at the border increases the distance to destination to another 400 kilometres. Increased distance impacts on the prices of goods at the retail end hence limiting access to products to majority of Africans. Limited access translates to less freedom of choice — similar to a locked up criminal prisoner.

With modern technology, goods should be declared at point of origin and point of receipt. Border points should simply have scanners to verify the content of containers. Protectionism, tariffs and non-tariff barriers within the continent sustains African market orientation towards former colonisers.

African entrepreneurs are subjected to longer travel schedules due to constant police checks and slow border processes. To fight poverty on the continent, African people would benefit from an African Union Summit that resolves to facilitate efficiency in movement of goods and services. Efficient delivery systems on the continent will tackle challenges of food insecurity, poor health care, conflicts and further promote diversified economies arising from competitive healthy trading amongst and between African nations.

Elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade will provide an opportunity for African entrepreneurs to adequately take their rightful places as relevant players in the global trade system. It is imperative that African countries re-orient their strategies to promote productivity by reviewing tariffs that hold back entrepreneurs from accessing the continent’s market. This calls for both a competitive spirit and a sense of integrated tariff and process compromise if the continent is to haul its population from poverty. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Prototype gun which can peek through walls

Believe it or not, devices used to see through walls are far from revolutionary. Reportedly, Physical Optics Corporation has concocted a prototype gun that utilizes the same method of viewing that a lobster does to see what’s ahead in murky waters. The LEXID (Lobster Eye X-ray Imaging Device) functions by “radiating objects with tiny amounts of X-ray energy,” subsequently allowing its user to see behind steel, wood or concrete. According to David Throckmorton, a project manager in Homeland Security’s Science and Technology division, the resulting images are beamed on a small screen and aren’t exactly drool-worthy, but they do allow one to make out a stash of weapons or a crouching enemy.

The price is unknown as it’s still a prototype, but the creators hope to make it cheap enough for exterminators and contractors to purchase and use. Note, the capability of seeing through walls is not necessarily just for use on weapons. It’s got some useful commercial applications such as pest control, where it can be built into a gun for shooting pesticide instead of a bullet. For the Customs and Border official, no doubt, there are equally varying applications of use. One could just imagine students getting into all sorts of trouble if one of these floated into the locker room.