Customs administrations around the world continue to be plagued by corruption. This corruption exists in developed and underdeveloped countries, and no country dealing in international commerce is immune. The very nature of customs work makes the individuals who perform it vulnerable to a variety of forms of corruption. This corruption can range from simple payment for facilitating movement to outright and large-scale fraud or other serious criminal activities.
Fortunately, some countries are having genuine successes in fighting customs corruption. Reforms have made a measurable impact in these countries, increasing operational effectiveness while simultaneously increasing the integrity of customs workers. Of these countries, two have recently been commended by the World Bank for fostering international commerce and creating effective, innovative solutions to customs corruption.
Customs officials in Cameroon had been working for years to improve charges of corruption with little success. The Director General was dissatisfied with these results and recently initiated a second wave of reforms. She had an integrity action plan developed that focused on human resource policies through a monitoring and incentive-based framework. In early 2010, the plan went into action, and the results have been laudable.
Between 2009 and 2012, customs revenues increased by almost 0.3 percent of Cameroon's GDP. Around 90 percent of declarations are assessed on the day that they are registered, and international traders now have a significantly more positive perception of customs officials. There have been huge improvements in clearance times and the overall attitude of customs officials.
Circumstances in Afghanistan are very different from those in Cameroon. Corruption in customs officials carries with it national security issues, including drug trafficking and terrorism. There has never been much faith in the ability of customs officials to effectively manage border security or integrity. The World Bank began encouraging reform efforts in Afghanistan in 2004 with a focus on improving infrastructure, automating certain procedures and clarifying or reforming the responsibilities of customs agents.
Of these efforts, automation had the most effect as it reduced face-to-face contact and negotiations that could encourage corruption and increased overall transparency and consistency with traders. Thanks to these efforts, revenue collection for import and export increased by more than $823 million from 2003-04 to 2009-10. Release times for trucks also decreased.
Unfortunately, corruption in Afghanistan has not significantly improved despite the great revenue collection improvement. Perceptions in the business community still assume that customs is one of the most corrupt institutions in the country, and import export businesses are still doing what they can to take advantage of that situation.