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Vulnerability of customs to bribery
Rashid ul Ahsan Chowdhury

          As empowered by the Customs Act, the customs administration in Bangladesh has four mandates to perform. These are firstly, to control inward and outward means of transport, goods, personnel, articles, mails and parcels; secondly, to collect customs duties and taxes for the National Board of Revenue; thirdly, to combat smuggling and misdeclaration of goods; and fourthly, to perform functions designated under allied acts, rules and regulations. These enormous responsibilities entrusted to customs make it a very important government organisation. However, the customs administration in Bangladesh is most vulnerable to corruption. The customs system is plagued by venality and there is a great loss of revenue through bribery. It is therefore important that the customs department be made an efficient organisation by uprooting corruption and upgrading its integrity standards. In the battle against corruption, substantial action can only follow when there is determined and sustained effort to eradicate corruption. Therefore, from compiling regulation to strategy planning, integrity issue should always be placed on top of the agenda.
The aim of the National Board of Revenue should be to build a clean-handed, hard-working, practical and efficient customs organisation. In order to achieve this aim the anti-corruption efforts of the National Board of Revenue should be based on: constant vigil against corruption through continuous monitoring; focusing on three keen factors which are education, rules and regimes and supervision; risk management and employment of information technology; and combining penalty with prevention and focusing on prevention by stemming the source of corruption from the very beginning.
The National Board of Revenue should strive to build a penalty and prevention regime against corruption which will give equal emphasis to education, rules and regimes and supervision. If this can be done, the customs officers' self-consciousness of integrity will be significantly strengthened, the supervision regime over abuse of power will be considerably improved, the risk of corruption will be effectively controlled, and the integrity image of the Customs will be acknowledged by the public. The National Board of Revenue should exert its authority in an all manners to realise these goals.
The first facet should be to conduct education on anti-corruption because education is the basis for preventing corruption. Therefore, enhancing education should be an important aspect of the National Board of Revenue's anti-corruption measures and this will help the customs officers build a mental defence against corruption. The NBR should continuously conduct anti-corruption education for all customs officers and have different methods for different grades of officers to make education more effective.
The contents of anti-corruption education should include the awareness of the customs officials on the principles of exercising law-based administration, safeguarding the national gateway, serving the national economic interest and promoting social development. It should also include the work ethics of being impartial and clean-handed and providing good services while guarding the national ports of entry and exit. The education should also emphasise on clear understanding of customs laws and regulations and the working discipline of the service. The National Board of Revenue should incorporate the anti-corruption education in every stage of the training and management of customs officers. There should be detailed training on integrity for officers newly recruited and promoted and the procedure for giving awards to officers setting good examples of integrity to be put into force. At the same time, efforts should made to educate officers by citing typical corruption cases to keep them vigilant against corruption. The NBR should also periodically launch review activities on the success of the integrity programme with theme campaigns like "upholding people-oriented enforcement," "encouraging new and clean ethos" etc. This drive should evaluate the success and the failure of the education campaign and be the base for promulgation of new ethics. Such labour on the part of the National Board of Revenue will for sure create sound effect on the customs officials.
The second facet will be to effectively strengthen efforts in respect of rules and regimes. Rules and regimes are featured by their fundamentality and stability and they are often long-term and proceed from all-round perspectives. Improvement of rules and regime building should be seen as a key factor for fighting corruption. The National Board of Revenue should endeavour to establish and improve related rules and disciplinary regimes in fighting corruption. It should ensure that power is exercised according to rules and regimes and prevent officers from abusing power. In addition, there should be a set of anti-corruption rules and regimes only for Customs officials for regulating their administration behaviour. These may include code of conduct rules, integrity rules, penalty measures for violation of enforcement rules and integrity discipline, rules relating to prohibited behaviour for customs officers and accountability rules.
If the National Board of Revenue finds clues of violation behaviour through processing complaints, accusations and other channels it should immediately investigate the matter in accordance with related procedures. If the customs officer is found responsible for any offence, he should be subjected to administrative penalty. The National Board of Revenue should also take steps to ensure the transparency of customs work through making public the organisational structure, terms of reference, operational processes, service hour commitment and various laws, regulations and rules related to customs. In addition, it should provide consultation services to the public. Most important, it should ensure that no customs officer is posted in one location for too long a time.
The third facet should be to intensify supervision and impose restriction on power exertion. Both history and reality in Bangladesh customs suggests that, without supervision and restriction, power has always been abused leading to gross corruption.
The writer is the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the World Custom Organisation in Brussels


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