There is a consensus now that corruption is universal, hence it may exist in every customs in the world in one way or the other, but with different levels. In countries where corruption is high, the whole governmental machinery is occupied by mafia whereas in countries where the level of corruption is low, the level of social oversight is high and the government is more accountable.
In developed countries, corruption is limited to customs employees. Unfortunately, in developing countries corruption crosses the borders of the executive body of the government and it occupies judicial and legislative parts broadly and even it reaches the office of the leadership of the government. In conflict zones, the situation is even worse.
To discuss issues about customs in Afghanistan, one can clearly say that corruption has reached its peak in the past 18 years in customs. I believe that to identifying corrupt practices needs investigations and audit but in case of Afghanistan, there is no need to invest on these, it is crystal clear indeed. Finding a specific term for the corruption that takes place in Afghan customs is difficult. It is worth mentioning that in some provinces the level of corruption is not as big as in some other provinces. We can say that in some provinces we can call it corruption but in others it is plunder. Corruption has a definition but it cannot be applied in customs, so what’s the definition of corruption in customs, let’s define it as below:
- Corruption in customs: Showing little weight than the actual weight by an employee of customs for gaining illicit money in exchange, similarly applying little duty on certain goods than the actual duty, for personal gain.
- Loot in Customs: Entering goods of high custom-duty and with three-time heavier weight without officially processing them to the markets of the country in exchange for a great amount of illegal money.
Why corruption is prevalent in customs? There are many reasons for this but some significant ones are hereunder:
- A good source of funding for the leadership of the country (especially during the elections)
- Lack of surveillance systems
- The interference of neighboring countries
- The involvement of MPs in customs affairs
- The interference of local government in customs affairs
- The interference of provincial councils
- Corruption in spy agencies
- Lack of coordination between the leadership of the ministry for overcoming corruption in customs
It is clear for everyone that an amount of budget is needed for presidential election campaigns; some of them are legitimate while others are illegitimate. Legitimate sources are partially known to the people, but illegitimate sources are wider and are mostly from revenue institutions. From among these institutions, one is customs. During the election campaigns, there is no control over customs activity at all, therefore corruption is converted to plunder. The revenue drops to a level that the government cannot disclose it because of the fear of a strong reaction by the international community and the public.
Furthermore, grand corruption takes place during parliamentary elections either. The leadership of the government wants MPs of their interest to reach parliament. Most of the time, they succeed by giving bribes to the employees of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan to increase the number of their votes. Hence, a question arises that where this money comes from, the major source is customs. When they win the elections, they use their influence appointing directors of customs in the relevant province. They first try to influence the existing directors, if they did not bow to them, they will then become the victims of their conspiracy and consequently dismissed. After placing their people, they then start their illegal activities. For example, three MPs won the elections with the financial and illegal support of the smugglers of Farah province. One of them is Hamayoon Shaheedzada who won the elections through the strong financial support of Hamid Sharifi a famous smuggler of Farah province. He is a business partner of Hamid Sharifi, he now supports Hamid Sharifi and the governor of Farah. Humayun Shaheedzada receives money from the director of customs and his deputy. He charges 200 USD per each truck entering Afghanistan without paying a penny to the government. Each truck is loaded with three times more weight than normal (allowed by the law).
Lack of Standard Surveillance Systems
Only good people cannot control customs, it means if you appoint honest people, they will increase the revenue and overcome corruption. No doubt that appointing good and honest people is required but it is not enough. However, to control customs, it is a big requirement to establish standards or at least traditional surveillance systems. The system is either not installed entirely or intentionally damaged partially or fully by the corrupt custom employees/officials. What is a surveillance system? Digital scales and surveillance cameras. Scales for weighing the goods are a requirement but currently they are not used for revenue increase and weight control, rather they are tools that help employees know the amount they will charge on smugglers. If the custom employees had to write the weight in the documents, they record the weight that they wish, there is no such a system that obliged them to write the exact amount. We have to accept that the existing scales were used to weigh the goods hundred years ago. Now the world is digitized, these should have also been digitized decades ago. Unfortunately, they are intentionally left susceptible. These scales should have been connected to a central network that ought to be monitored remotely. These are the issues that a common employee of a custom can also understands. They purposely do not want these systems established, and if an official plan to establish such a system, they are soon replaced.
Interference of Neighboring Countries
Some neighboring countries like Iran which is facing international sanctions Afghanistan is the only market for them to sell their goods in. Iran wants to export as much goods as possible to Afghanistan even if it is through illegal means. If an official or employee resist allowing the illegal goods to enter Afghanistan, Iran through their Afghan spies defame them so that they are not supported by the central government. The honest employees/officials try to prevent illegal items and custom-duty evasion.
The Interference of MPs (senators and members of lower house)
Although the intervention of MPs in customs has decreased to a level, it has not been eliminated so far. As we said before some MPs reach the parliament through the financial support of local smugglers. Thus, these MPs do not allow the customs uninterrupted. The MPs sometimes directly call the provincial custom directors to help the smuggler in their illicit activities, if that does not work, then the MPs through the smugglers pinpoint the mistakes of the director so that to defame him. Similarly, after threatening the directors, they then get extortion by intimidation. We have such examples in Jalalabad as well as in Farah customs. 60 % of the illicit money was the share of an MP and 40 % was the director’s share. It means that out of 100,000 USD, 60,000 was going to the pocket of MP. Similarly, after the month of Asad 1398, 200 trucks everyday without paying customs-duty and with three times more weight than the standard weight is allowed to enter Afghanistan from Iran. If it is received, the legal custom duty of each truck equals to or exceeds 1,400,000 AFs (app.20,000 USD), this goes to the pockets of staff. Of this money, 200 USD/truck goes to the pocket of an MP. Other MPs of the province get 5,000 USD per week. Now, who can calculate the MP’s power? He has legal power; he has money and he has influence. He will be stupid who discloses this secret. If one discloses this secret, what will be his fate? The same situation exists in Herat province, they have to pay to the MPs otherwise the directors of customs will face an unknown situation.
Senators are another problem; they also want their share. If they don’t get their part, they then plan an official mission to the province and monitor the activities of the customs. If the senators get their part on the spot, then there is no issue. If they are not given money, then they shout and say there is grand corruption. Those directors of customs who are blamed by the senators for corruption, if they pay a bribe to these senators on a mission, they then give those directors with written rewards.
According to some employees and businessmen in Farah, once Mr. Hasham Alkozay came to Farah and visited Farah Customs. “He was very angry and was accusing the custom director and other employees for corruption, however when he was paid 200,000 USD by the director, he rewarded the director with a written appreciation- certificate.”
Local Government Direct Interference
In addition to other local authorities, provincial governors directly intervene in customs. Either they directly intimidate or they wait for directors of customs to pay them constantly. Some governors get their part secretly but others shamelessly are partners with local smugglers. Governors who do not ask for their part directly, customs directors pay them on either a weekly basis or a monthly basis. Some of the governors ask for lion share. They bargain with customs directors about the amount that how much should it be. In some cases, the conversation has become tense between the governor and the custom director on the amount of money that had been considered to be given to the governor; for example, the customs director wanted to give the governor 40,000 USD per day, but the governor wanted 100,000.
Detective/spy agencies, especially those who are authorized to monitor the customs are misusing their authority in one way or the other. Those customs directors who pay the chiefs of the spy agencies never report the corruption cases of the customs to the capital, rather they are praised and they give a good report about them. However, those directors who do not pay, their fate is in the hands of spy agencies. These customs directors are badly reported to the capital, even named as a betrayer. Those directors who do not pay the spy agencies, the spy agencies then look for a mistake that the relevant customs may commit. As soon as the spy agency detects a minor mistake, they subsequently use it as intimidation. If intimidation does not work, then they refer the case to the judicial authorities. Now another episode starts, if the directors of customs have collected enough illicit money, they can easily get rid of judicial authorities and if they don’t have money, either they have to go to jail or wait for months for judicial proceedings.
Provincial Councils’ Direct Intervention
The provincial council is another headache for customs. In some provinces where there are customs, the heads of provincial councils are strong than others. The stronger heads of provincial councils determined their share in customs by themselves, they directly order the customs director to pay them the considered amount. However, in some other provinces, the customs directors willingly pay the councils so that to maintain a good relationship with them and to avoid raise voice against the corruption in customs.
No coordination among the leadership of the Ministry for tackling corruption
There had always been disagreement between the leadership of the ministry on recruitment of the customs directors. The dispute between the deputy minister for customs and revenues (DM-CR) and the director-general of customs (DG-C) had always been an issue. The DG had a person in each provincial customs who were responsible for collecting money for DG. If the directors found them guilty, they should have not been touched, otherwise, the director should have experienced the consequence. In case if the DG-C interests were affected, they would do anything against the provincial director. They would say, hey, there are reports of corruption in the customs, let’s send an investigative mission to the province. The DG-C would then form a committee of his group and dispatched them to the province. The mission would then try to scrutinize the customs and would look for the mistake that the director had committed. Without discussing the issues with the director, they would complete their mission and left back to the capital. They had never shared the report with accused custom directors, rather took action against them. The DG had never good relationship with honest employees. Some customs directors have good relationship with both the DM and the DG. They then can keep their position for a longer time.
Some DMs have also their representatives in customs. The smart DMs collect money very carefully and secretly that very few people understand this. Others are openly collecting money through representatives, they think that these positions are temporary, therefore, they take advantage of every opportunity.
The law enforcement directorate of customs is another phenomenon in the custom’s general directorate. This position comes under the authority of DG-C, but the DG himself is afraid of him. Because the director of law enforcement is the person who can collect evidence against the DG as well. Although the position is law enforcement, he has rarely been a clean and honest person. He is involved in corruption. To prevent corruption, seize goods that have not paid customs duty and illegal items, instead they facilitate entering illegal goods to the market in exchange for money. It is worth mentioning that there are monitoring teams in all the provinces where there are customs, these teams work under the authority of the law enforcement directorate.
View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy