Trade costs and corruption in Ports of Durban and Maputo

Recent years have brought an increased awareness of the importance of trade costs in hindering trade, particularly in the developing world where these costs are highest, says a report in the latest edition of Port Technology. The most salient type of trade costs have often been tariff duties and costs associated with the physical transportation of goods. As a result, several countries embarked on extensive programmes of tariff liberalisation and a significant portion of aid effort was channelled to investments in hard transport infrastructure, such as rebuilding railways and ports (the World Bank alone devotes more than 20 percent of its budget to transport infrastructure projects worldwide).

More recently, new light has been cast on the importance of a different type of trade cost: the cost imposed by the soft infrastructure of transport, defined as the bureaucratic infrastructure handling the movement of goods across borders. While there are many possible sources of inefficiencies stemming from the soft infrastructure of transport, recent research is beginning to document the role played by corruption in transport bureaucracies in driving trade costs. This article provides an overview of this research.

Research into corruption

Corruption can take many forms and emerge in many different phases of the process of clearing goods across borders. Sequeira and Djankov (2011) documented in great detail the ways in which port corruption emerges in Durban and Maputo in Southern Africa – this report is featured in my next post. This research was based on a unique dataset of directly observed bribe payments to each port bureaucracy for a random sample of 1,300 shipments.

The study began by defining two broad categories of port officials that differed in their administrative authority and in their discretion to stop cargo and generate opportunities for bribe extraction: customs officials and port operators. In principle, customs officials hold greater discretionary power to extract bribes than regular port operators, given their broader bureaucratic mandate and the fact that they can access full information on each shipment, and each shipper, at all times. Customs officials possess discretionary power to singlehandedly decide which cargo to stop and whether to reassess the classification of goods for tariff purposes, validate reported prices of goods, or request additional documentation from the shipper.

Regular port operators, on the other hand, have a narrower mandate to move or protect cargo on the docks, and at times even lack access to the cargo’s documentation specifying the value of the cargo and the client firm. This category of officials includes those receiving bribes to adjust reefer temperatures for refrigerated cargo stationed at the port; port gate officials who determine the acceptance of late cargo arrivals; stevedores who auction off forklifts and equipment on the docks; document clerks who stamp import, export and transit documentation for submission to customs; port security who oversee high value cargo vulnerable to theft; shipping planners who auction off priority slots in shipping vessels, and scanner agents who move cargo through non- intrusive scanning technology.

The organisational structure of each port created different opportunities for each type of port official to extract bribes: the high extractive types -customs agents- or the low extractive types -port operators. These opportunities were determined by the extent of face to face interactions between customs officials and clearing agents, the type of management overseeing port operations, and the time horizons of each type of official.

Durban and Maputo

In Durban, direct interaction between clearing agents and customs’ agents was kept to a minimum since all clearance documentation was processed online. In contrast, all clearance documentation was submitted in person by the clearing agent in the Port of Maputo. The close interaction between clearing agents and customs officials in Maputo created more opportunities for corrupt behaviour to emerge in customs relative to Durban.

In Maputo, port operators were privately managed but in Durban, most terminals (for containerised cargo) were under public control, with very lax monitoring and punishment strategies for those engaging in corrupt behaviour. Private management in Maputo was associated with fewer opportunities for bribe payments due to better monitoring and stricter punishment for misconduct. As a result, the organisational features of each bureaucracy determined that the high extractive types in customs had more opportunities to extract bribes in Maputo, while the low extractive types in port operations had more opportunities to extract bribes in Durban. While corruption levels were high in both ports, bribes were higher and more frequent in Maputo relative to Durban.

Finally, port officials with opportunities to extract bribes at each port differed in their time horizons. Customs in Maputo adopted a policy of frequently rotating agents across different terminals and ports, and since bribes varied significantly by the type of terminal at the port, customs agents were aware of the risk of being assigned to terminals with lower levels of extractive potential. On the other hand, port operators in Durban had extended time horizons given the stable support received from dock workers’ unions. Customs officials were therefore the high extractive types with the shortest time horizons, the broadest bureaucratic mandates and more opportunities to interact face to face with clearing agents. As a result, they extracted higher and more frequent bribes, relative to port operators in Durban (the low extractive types) who had longer time horizons and narrower bureaucratic mandates. Source: Port Technology.

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

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