‘Bribery Rife at Border Posts’

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Despite an official zero tolerance policy against bribery and smuggling, crime of this nature has continued unabated among officials in the Department of Customs and Excise during the past three years. This was offered as evidence yesterday to a public hearing of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Calle Schlettwein. “We are trying our utmost best to curb bribery and smuggling at all the country’s main border posts. Bribery in particular plays a big part in all of this, whereby the private sector entices officials to commit these crimes of which the rewards are massive both for the operators and the criminals. In recent times, we have uncovered 14 such incidents of which three are pending criminal cases,” Schlettwein informed the committee. Many customs officials get fired if and when found guilty of such crimes. “Though we do not have the legal mandate to do so, we have checked on suspects’ bank accounts and the discoveries we have made have been questionable in a number of cases. One must bear in mind that the culprits are no fools. They know what they are doing. Some pay the bribe and smuggling monies into bank accounts of family members or friends, making things very difficult for us to apprehend the culprits,” he said. He assured the committee that his ministry has mechanisms in place to check the trustworthiness, commitment and integrity of officials by way of monthly inspections. “Rules and regulations are now more strictly applied at border posts with regard to tax on goods evasions. We confront companies involved in such criminal practices, but in most cases it is difficult to prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. In efforts to reshape the system, we have abandoned the so-called Duty Credit Scheme, considered to have been insensitive to manufacturers and also against World Trade Organization rules,” the PS said. He told the committee that an outside company has been appointed for VAT tax collections on import and export goods. “We want to increase our presence at border posts to such an extent that we can man such border posts 24 hours per day, but that is presently not possible. Granted, at some border posts we are not even physically present. We hope to beef up our operations by decentralization in the hope of streamlining control over the sector,” he said. Schlettwein intimated to the committee that the anticipated bulk of export and import on the Trans-Kalahari Highway has not materialised thus far. According to him, people have reverted back to the old border posts such as Ariamsvlei and Noordoewer due to the fact that the highway in the northeast is a dangerous one with many speed traps and animals. He informed the committee that his ministry has now formally trained more than 390 border posts officials and continues to do so in conjunction with Unam and the Polytechnic of Namibia. “We have a basic one-month training course in place for newly appointed officials in all regions as well as advanced courses for senior officials. We have a rotating system in place whereby officials are three-yearly transferred from one border post to another,” Schlettwein said. He told the committee that his ministry is in the process of negotiating to acquire border-scanning equipment for the whole country.