The Pursuit of Integrity in Customs: Experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa
Author: Odd-Helge Fjeldstad
Size: 22 pages (151kB)
Why have many anti-corruption reforms in customs in sub-Saharan Africa apparently not succeeded? This paper argues that the reforms have been too focused on formal institutions, and have paid too little attention to political economy issues and the role of informal institutions. Customs officers are often torn between compliance with abstract bureaucratic norms and the concrete expectations of their networks of social belonging. Accordingly, policy initiatives should focus more on reducing the possibility or attraction of favouritism versus acting in the public interest. This calls for anti-corruption efforts based on thorough political economy analysis.
Efforts to support anti-corruption reforms have often adopted a prescribed and mechanical approach, featuring quantitative performance targets, the redrawing of organisational charts, training courses, and so on. While such strategies may be necessary, they are not sufficient to building an internal culture in customs with a strong mission focus and performance-oriented practices.
In many customs administrations patronage runs through networks grounded on ties of kinship and community origin. Customs staff are seen by their family members and social networks as important potential patrons who have access to money, resources, and opportunities that they are morally obliged to share. In turn, customs officers are motivated to build up networks based on reciprocity as a way of banking assistance for the future: the state is perceived to be an unreliable provider of assistance. Thus, a spiral is created in which informal networks undermine reform efforts, perpetuating the need for their continued operation.
Patronage networks foster parallel organisations within customs, in which posts are valued for the illicit gains to which they provide access. In addition, politicians commonly intervene in customs to grant favours such as managerial positions and import duty and tax exemptions to supporters, or to harass political opponents through audits.
Fighting corruption in customs therefore requires reformers to attend to the informal networks that often determine the behaviour of customs officers and of politicians. Reformers should consider the importance of:
Sustainable change demands sustained effort, commitment and leadership over a long time. The big challenge is to use setbacks as learning opportunities, rather than as excuses for abolishing reforms.
Fjeldstad, O.-H., 2009, 'The Pursuit of Integrity in Customs: Experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa', Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway
Author: Odd-Helge Fjeldstad , odd.fjeldstad[at]cmi.no