Opinions Thu, 17 Mar 2005

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The New Outlook Of Customs In The 21st Century

Accra, March 17, GNA - Domestic and international trade over the years have seen significant increases in the volume of export and import of goods. This has led to increased opportunities for countries to earn revenue from the collection of taxes. Customs is cut to do this onerous job. All businessmen do not like to pay readily. Some would like to cheat by smuggling, under invoicing, over invoicing etc.

Invariably the shady deals lead to fraud, which is often linked to organized crime, perpetrated in a variety of ways that include revenue and fiscal evasion, through false declaration, misuse of exemptions, and even money laundering.

Customs all over the world are considered unique due to their position, the role they play at the borders and ports of entry and the authority to inspect exports and imports and charge appropriate charges.

Equally, as they design and implement effective strategies and programmes to collect revenue, they are also required to facilitate trade, investment and the movement of people across the borders. The roles of Customs administrations in the 21st century therefore are increasingly perceived as both gatekeepers and revenue collectors.

This has always been a challenge to Customs to contend with, primarily because the incentives for perpetrators to commit revenue related fraud are great and financially advantageous whilst penalties are comparatively low.

Customs administrators therefore, have the challenge of balancing security with trade facilitation to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Ghana's Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) is no exception to these new trends. By dint of hard work and dedication to duty, it had exceeded its revenue target in 2004 and thereby raked in over nine trillion cedis into state coffers.

This is about 55 per cent of total government revenue, which is used to finance the country's recurrent budget, and development projects. The new crops of Customs Officers have endeared themselves to the public by their efficiency, friendliness and firmness with which they have approached their duties at the entry points. Foreigners who come into contact with the officers have recognized this.

It was thus heartening to note that Ghana has received the nod to host the 10th World Customs Organisation (WCO) Regional Conference for Director-Generals of Customs Administration in the West and Central Africa from 23rd to 25th March in Accra.

The Conference, under the theme: "Security and Trade Facilitation: A challenge for Customs Administration in the 21st Century," will provide a forum for Customs leaders to deliberate and develop new strategies and instruments, and provide support with the implementation of new instruments.

The Accra conference will draw Heads of Customs Administrations and delegates from 22 West and Central African countries, including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, La Cote d'Ivoire, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazaville, Gabon and Tchad. The United States Customs will attend as observers, while a number of representatives from the Private Sector throughout the sub-region would be invited for the first time in the history of the WCO to participate in the conference.

High on the agenda of the conference will be a forum with Private Sector representatives from West and Central Africa, which would be addressed by the WCO Secretary General, Michel Danet from Brussels, Belgium.

Participants will deliberate on security and facilitation of international trade supply chain, trade and integrity in the relationship between customs and the private sector.

The WCO is an independent intergovernmental body established in 1952 to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Customs administrations and assist to contribute to national development goals, particularly in the areas of trade facilitation, revenue collection, community protection and supply chain security.

It has a membership of 164 Customs Administrations Worldwide, which are collectively responsible in safeguarding national borders and process more than 98 per cent of World Trade.

Ghana's Commissioner of CEPS, Brigadier General Richardson Edwin Baiden, said he believed that the conference would sensitise member countries on changes and exigencies in World Customs operations, which are necessary for success of its members.

"The challenge for CEPS is to derive maximum benefit from the WCO to formulate policies that would counter and curb abuses and negative trade practices using available resources," he said.

Brig. Gen. Baiden said in response to the changing trends in business and in the quest to position the service to provide "World class Customs service," Management has decided to organize frequent refresher courses to re-train and up-date officers' skills and technical know-how.

Facilities at CEPS Academy would be given a thorough facelift and far reaching set of package to ensure academic excellence.

Mrs Comfort Boahene Osafo, the Deputy Commissioner in-charge of Research, Monitoring and Information Technology, outlining the importance of the conference at a press soiree recently, said it would enable member administrations to deliver on the added functions of the Service, which included security against drug trafficking, counterfeiting, piracy, money laundering and terrorism.

Mrs Boahene-Osafo, who is also the chairperson for the planning committee, said these added responsibilities would reflect the improvement in the traditional role for Customs administration as revenue collecting agencies.

The WCO has been active in developing tools and instruments for its members to combat commercial fraud. These include training courses, conventions and instruments on international cooperation, preparation of commercial fraud investigation manuals, risk assessment approaches and indicators, among others.

"In this context, one cannot highlight enough the importance of international Customs cooperation, which is the most effective way to tackle commercial fraud.

"The June 2003 Johannesburg Convention adopted an international Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance on Customs Matters as a means to prevent, investigate and combat Customs offences, and to ensure the security of the international trade supply chain", she said. Mr Michel Danet, WCO Secretary-General said, "with the

provisions of the Revised Kyoto Convention, the organization strongly supports the recommendation that Customs shift from exclusive movement control to more audit-based controls."

He said conducting compliance measurement exercises on traders through post clearance audit was an appropriate method to verify trade transactions.

All Administrations are therefore, required to build human and resource capacity of their members to enable them perform creditably under the new challenges.

In all, enhancing the effectiveness of Customs administration would go a long way to ensure the prevention of crime, rake in necessary revenue for development and make the entry points of countries secure against terrorism and across border crimes. March 17 05

Columnist: GNA

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