Thursday, January 7, 2010

Adventures is Customs Control - Africa Style

A propos of nothing in particular, I need to have a word with those consultants who advise on anti-corruption matters, specifically in customs control.

After a year in captivity in Bishkek, my "stuff" (including my golf clubs) arrived in Dar es Salaam via Istanbul, Frankfurt and Nairobi. Getting at it was another matter. Kenya Airlines never bothered to tell me when they were sending it down and they did so a week ago, thereby giving me the privilege of paying storage charges as the airport. No matter. Then, however, came the exciting half day at the cargo terminal of Nyerere International Airport.

First, don't ever try to do this alone. Select one of the facilitators at the main gate whom you will pay to do all the dirty work. That work means filing more forms than I care to count, photocopying identification, describing the goods and generally running around to get the shipment released. I had three hard working fellows on my side. They ran from Swissport offices to the payment windows and to me (for tax payments, signing documents, providing my passport etc.) and then, after two hours ambled over to the customs warehouse with me in tow to have the shipment "inspected".

I was quietly told that we needed to "take care" of the inspectors (five of them). My reaction was not shock (anti-corruption consultants take note) that bribery was going on here - I just wanted to know how much I needed to "take care" of them. As it turned out, my facilitators had negotiated a good deal. About $50 which I dutifully paid in Tanzanian Shillings. Suddenly, the inspectors dropped whatever other inspection they had not be paid to perform and tore into my shipment. It took ten minutes and, with a flash of papers and a wave, the next to the next final step was done.

It took another 45 minutes to pay for storage, grab a receipt and then run to another person to get the signed release and gate pass all before the entire office shut for the day. So, after all that and paying my facilitators, I was off.

Anti-corruption efforts only work if salaries are reasonable and punishment is certain, swift and decisive. Since none of that exists in Tanzania, at least at customs control, I was more interested in not waiting a week to collect my stuff. Hence, the automatic reaction to "taking care" of the officials. If the facilitation payment had not been made, very little would have transpired. Such is reality.

Back to work.

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