Annual Review & Outlook, 2016
Cargo theft, smuggling, the import of harmful consumer products, and duty evasion all pose risks to public health and safety or cost a country customs revenue. But unlike threats perpetrated from the outside, violations committed by customs personnel themselves require a different set of safeguards.
Customs services everywhere face the risk of personnel conspiring with outside forces to compromise the supply chain. In certain places, personnel are regularly coerced through threats by cartels. Elsewhere, corruption is so institutionalized that bribery is viewed as a cost of doing business.
Regardless of motive, proper policies and procedures, aided by new technologies, can reduce these risks. For example, systems used for non-intrusive inspection of cargo are performing faster and producing clearer images. However, little benefit exists if a corrupted screener is intentionally not referring suspicious containers for inspection.
Fortunately, technologies now allow images to be reviewed remotely, in real time, at a centralized location to determine whether onsite personnel should perform a physical inspection. These systems also have the capability to share images in real time between foreign customs authorities, providing an additional layer of security.
Other tools that combat corrupt behavior are automated cargo targeting systems that assign risk based on trade data and then generate a referral for inspection of high-risk cargo that can only be overridden by a supervisor. Additionally, a system that randomly generates inspectors’ assignments reduces the threat of collusion between a customs official and a smuggler.
While no nation is immune to the corruption of customs personnel and resulting revenue leakage, it is particularly damaging to developing countries that need customs revenue for public betterment. Integrity building policies, procedures and technologies should be implemented in these places so that their economies may grow through the expansion of trade.