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The Pursuit of Integrity in Customs: Experiences from sub-Saharan Africa
Source of the information:
Chr. Michelsen Institute
Fighting corruption in customs administration is a major challenge for many African governments, as well as for development agencies providing technical assistance. In this paper the author argues that integrity reforms have been too focused on reforming formal institutions, and too little attention has been paid to the political economy of reforms. Therefore, this paper examines the current approaches to fighting corruption in customs, their limitations, and the impacts of patrimonial informal practices and political interventions on customs administration. It also explores ways to improve the performance of customs in a situation where the broader social, political and economic environment, as well as the public sector in general, is seriously detrimental to good performance.
Corruption is most likely to occur when agents enjoy monopoly power over clients, when agents enjoy discretionary decision power over provision of services and when the level of accountability is low.
Political elites also seek to establish principles of mutual aid, of patron-client reciprocity, based on kin and family relations. Accordingly, the public sector becomes an instrument for building public support, and is critical for the sustenance of those who wield executive power.
Customs and tax administrative reforms are often highly political processes that will inevitably pose a threat to important domestic stakeholders. They take time to achieve and are often contested.
Most corrupt transactions which occur within the customs environment involve the active or passive participation of the private sector. Thus, the private sector must be actively involved in and committed to identifying and implementing practical solutions to fight corruption.
Expectations about what customs modernisation reforms in sub-Saharan Africa can achieve in the short run have been especially difficult to manage. Recommendations include:
Fighting corruption in customs requires reformers to look beyond the formal structures of the state, to the informal networks of patronage and social domination which often determine the behaviour of customs officers and also how political power is actually exercised in Africa.
There is a need for more robust analysis of country and local contexts. Information and data systems for assessing integrity problems in customs and monitoring progress of anti-corruption reforms are generally weak.