On January 26, 2016, the World Customs Organization (WCO) celebrated 64 years of representing customs administrations (now numbering 180 and accounting for approximately 98% of international trade). The WCO promotes the use of information and communication technologies by customs administrations and other stakeholders under the motto: “Digital Customs: Progressive Engagement.”
Customs authorities in Mozambique began using information technologies in 1997 with the Trade Information System (TIMS), and Mozambique upgraded to the Single Electronic Window in 2011. The Single Electronic Window currently processes 90% of import and export declarations.
This article focuses on operationalizing the agreements on one-stop border posts that Mozambique has with neighbouring countries South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Mozambique participates in the implementation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Finance and Investment Protocol.
These agreements aim to facilitate regional trade through procedures to enhance speed, convenience, simplicity, safety, and interaction among the border control institutions.
The concept of coordinated border management arises from the current customs challenges posed by the increased flow of commercial transactions combined with increased illicit trade and transnational crime. The efficiency and effectiveness of both key aspects of Customs work can be achieved only if the various entities that control the borders carry out their activities in a coordinated manner.
The WCO dedicated 2015 to Coordinated Border Management to encourage customs administrations to promote partnerships to improve goods processing at borders, namely among Customs, Immigration, Police, and Border Guards, as well as Health, Veterinary, Agricultural and other officials.
The concept of coordinated border management is built on two dimensions. The horizontal aspect involves sharing the same information among all institutions performing compliance checks at the borders. The vertical perspective ensures that all government employees operating on the border share the same procedures and policies.
This concept also has a national and an international dimension, both in terms of coordinating among national institutions and promoting cooperation between customs authorities of different countries. Information sharing between national customs and customs of neighbouring countries currently lacks a systems compatibility check, so this too is an important aspect to be taken into account.
The implementation of one-stop border posts ultimately requires the adoption of common policies and strategies between countries that share a common border. The core components should include the priority lines of action, deadlines, budget for infrastructure, and relevant training programs, and every component of the fight against smuggling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism financing, and other forms of fraud.
This has in turn required the sharing of intelligence when there is a need to carry out joint operations. Additionally, there is also a need for skills transfer to ensure that all countries and agencies have the relevant expertise. The exchange of experience to support training of officials can occur between South Africa and its neighbouring countries.
The SADC emphasizes the coordination of the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (SARPCCO) and the creation of the Single Clearance Point at Border Posts at all border crossings, by agreement with neighbouring countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe). This consists of a one-stop post through which foreign tourist visas are processed in each entry border by joint teams with final approval given on the South Africa side of the border. This streamlined process was applied to issue visas to 309,554 foreign visitors arriving in South Africa to attend the 2010 World Cup.
Coordinated border management introduces an innovative approach that breaks with the traditional model of border management. The modern approach is supported by information and communication technologies for verification of visas in passports, electronic clearance of goods, electronic verification of registration of cars, etc. This represents a series of steps in moving from the paper-based process to e-border customs management.
To achieve efficiency for government institutions, I recommend maximizing the use of information technologies for information sharing and to improve management processes that can benefit from modernization.
The adoption of the SADC Finance and Investment Protocol helps to improve the efficiency of financial institutions of SADC member countries when it comes to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. In border control, particular attention should be given to the the facilitation of regional trade to promote regional development corridors, with a view toward implementing the SADC Customs Union.
The other important component to coordinated border management is the relationship between customs authorities and risk management practices. Risk management allows Customs to select imports and exports suspected of containing merchandise to find evidence of fraud through scanning and physical inspection where applicable.
The use of risk management requires creating and sharing a database on imports and exports with the SADC member states. In the case of a suspicious container, an electronic alert in the system would go off so that authorities can intervene. Information sharing between countries should be extended to all import and export declarations and should be accessible to all employees assigned to the one-stop office. And modernizations such as biometric passports should improve the detection of counterfeit or stolen passports as well.
The Government of Mozambique must now determine the key next steps for coordinated border management among national institutions, allocating both human and financial resources, building appropriate infrastructure and properly training human resources.
Particular attention should be devoted to English language training for national staff, and training of foreign border officials in Portuguese to better understand the documents, legislation and other necessary elements. Bilingual functionality can obviate the requirement for translation of authentic documents and increase public trust.
The centrepiece of this concept is effective information sharing, flowing from top to bottom (vertically) and across institutions (horizontally). Building trust and better collaboration across teams requires employees to know their responsibilities and those of other employees in other institutions. This can be aided by a detailed internal procedures manual for government institutions to improve clarity and consistency and eliminate duplication of procedures.
Rather than immediately allocating human and material resources, member states involved in coordinated border management agreements should initiate a change-management process first, which can be accomplished by setting up joint teams across institutions and across borders, through a series of seminars.
Taken together, these steps can facilitate regional trade, promote development corridors, maintain security, and reduce illicit trade, all of which helps to achieve a balance between trade facilitation and enforcement controls.
*Marcos Miguel is a Customs Senior Officer at the Mozambique Revenue Authority (MRA). He holds an MBA in Customs Management awarded by ESAMI (Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute). He contributed this article as follow-up to his participation in the Africa Tax Dialogue held in Maputo, Mozambique in November 2015. His MBA discussed “The integration of Single Electronic Window and e-Taxation to improve regulatory compliance and service delivery at MRA.”