Dr. Muhammad Nadeem Memon
Additional Collector (Headquarters) Model Customs Collectorate (Preventive) Karachi.
Public Service Delivery and Customs
Pakistan Customs being the guardian of the economic frontiers of the country is a dynamic organization performing many functions including revenue collection, diplomatic functions, and recovery of arrears of duty & taxes, trade facilitation and compliance & enforcement with very small working force. Borders divides while Customs connects is true reflection of Pakistan Customs international outreach and character. Despite declining tariff rates, revenue collection remains a substantial function of Pakistan Customs. There was a time when each import and export clearance document used to take more than 15 days before clearance from the port besides it had to pass more than 20 desks to get cleared. The public service delivery perception about Customs was at its lowest ebb besides greatly tainted with allegations of corruption and lack of transparency. Realizing the fact that with ever growing trade volumes Customs cannot remain in isolation and it will not be able to keep the pace with modernization and digitalization adopted by Customs administrations world over. Pakistan Customs like other public service delivery organizations suffer from institutional image problem. General public`s perception about Customs is far from satisfactory yet Customs is doing a lot for its image building and visible improvement in public service mechanisms.
Therefore it was among the first few public sector organizations in the country which started automation in its business processes in the country since 1990. The results are tremendous. Presently, it has fully automated business processes where more than 70 % of cargo is cleared under green channel system within same day and remaining gets out of the port area in next three days. Green channel facility at airports has greatly facilitated air travel passengers.
With advancement in technology the Customs now plays following roles in the national economy:
Revenue Collection : The share of Customs in overall revenue collection of FBR is more than 40% in a year.
Trade Facilitation: An efficient customs administration providing transparent, predictable and speedy clearance of goods boosting trade more than anything else. The increase in Pakistan’s trade with the outside world in recent years has placed increasing demands on Customs. Customs has to adjust to increased volume of trade and additional hours of service, and its job is made more complex by a plethora of global, regional and bilateral trade agreements. However, there is no commensurate increase in customs staffing and resources to keep pace with the increased workload and more complex work environment. If customs service is not motivated and efficient, it can result in additional costs and time delays to importers, exporters, carriers, domestic industries and consumers.
Regulatory/Enforcement Role : (a) Implementation of national trade policy as envisaged in Import and Export policy Orders, (b) Protect local manufacturer/ industry by apprehending counterfeit goods and enforcing copyrights, (c) Protection of citizens from health hazards by restricting the imports of goods which are unfit for human consumption and may cause biodegradation or damage the environment and above all (d) Prevention of smuggling the Customs has to man 2500 km porous land border, vast sea coast and 10 entry exit points.
While performing the above mentioned varied functions, Customs faces several challenges which are summarized below:
- More demanding and sophisticated clients
- Huge trade volumes
- Heightened security concerns
- Inadequate staff and resources
Among many enforcement functions the anti-smuggling activities are the major area of concern. Smuggling of goods, narcotics and other prohibited items being major challenge faced by the Customs is causing huge loss to the national economy besides threatening the security and social fabric of the society. Smuggling of goods into Pakistan takes place through the long porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran and the coastal belt. Though exact quantum of smuggling is unknown yet one study suggest it to be Rs. 902 billion annually.
The country`s bilateral agreement with Afghanistan, sharing 2430 kms long porous had become a challenge for Pakistan Customs as historically smuggling of goods started under the garb of this agreement. New transit treaty signed between the two countries in 2011 has improved the situation, plucked the leakages and since then smuggling through this route has declined with strict administrative measures in place. Now China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC), considered as a game changer in the region with approx. 2600kms of road network and 26 SEZs, pose a great challenge for smuggling prevention to Pakistan Customs with its lack of preparedness. Managing transit trade through existing Afghan Transit Trade and CPEC will be great challenge for Customs with existing inadequate infrastructure and aging manpower. In present conducive environment, the Customs has to adopt proactively its role as primary anti-smuggling organization of the country which needs to be recognized and supported by all other Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) assigned with these functions by the Customs at national level.
Recently brave officers/officials of MCC Hyderabad, MCC Quetta, MCC Peshawar and the Directorate General of Intelligence & Investigation, Islamabad embarrassed martyrdom and sacrificed their lives while performing their duty to protect interests of the state. Yet unfortunately they are not given the status of “Shaheed” by the state and their families do not get the same assistance package which is available to the families of “Shaheeds” of other LEAs. Additionally, increased trade activity in the region with establishment of China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and possibility of surge in narcotic trade due to changing geopolitical situation in Afghanistan especially after withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan indicates future challenges for Customs as primary agency entrusted with anti-smuggling functions. Importantly, in post 9/11 scenario the developed countries have added Security Dimension in the charter/functions/duties of their Customs Administrations and since Pakistan is one of the worst affected country in the world by terrorism and extremism since years. The “Punta Cana Resolution” of World Customs Organization (WCO) passed in December 2015 advised Customs Administrations around the globe to include security as part of their mandate and functions. The Punta Cana Resolution has recognized that Customs authorities around the world are the first line of defense against many criminals and violent extremists and terrorist organizations that exploit international boundaries. It is therefore high time that Pakistan Customs may be got notified as Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) from the Federal Government so as to get a highly motivated work force capable of meeting challenges head.
In order to improve public service delivery by Customs, it is suggested to recognize Pakistan Customs as national anti smuggling lead agency, establish single centralized Directorate General of Anti-smuggling & enforcement in the country, create National Data Base, establishment of two separate Directorates for monitoring CPEC. Customs’ human and other resource needs to be met with fresh recruitments and adequate logistic support. Strong and transparent accountability need to be the order of the day to monitor the workforce. Long term strategy to include uniform application of Customs law throughout the country with no exceptions , Tariff rationalization, formation of Apex Committee headed by Customs at national level to monitor the progress and make future strategies to be adopted by all LEAs. This gigantic task could only be achieved with simultaneous adoption and implementation of packages for agricultural, industrial and socioeconomic development for the people of the smuggling prone areas.
Professionally, now there is a marked improvement in clearance of both import and export consignments, automation of the procedures/systems providing end-to-end solution for clearances, reducing dual time remarkably in the region. Reducing corruption, increasing transparency (evident by improved ranking given by Transparency International) in working environment, passengers facilitation and green channel at airport etc should be the hallmarks of the Customs` new outreach to public service delivery. Besides recent reclaiming and beautiful development of Eduljee Dinshaw Road, Customs Preventive officers Club, academies of Cricket and Hockey are just few star projects of Pakistan Customs towards service to the society. Though public service delivery has remarkably improved in recent years, yet still no room for complacency as Customs has to continue with its modernization and automation processes to keep pace with Customs administrations of the world and to take the country with pride among comity of nations in this century.