Blame game at the BOC
Exasperated by continuing corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BOC)—two commissioners have been relieved amid shabu smuggling controversies—President Duterte wants the agency to do away with customs brokers.
He said, “take away the brokers and you would have cut corruption overnight. On a scale of one to 10, maybe you have reduced corruption to about eight or eight and one half.”
The president of the Chamber of Customs Brokers, Adones Carmona, protested the President’s statement on the customs brokers’ culpability for corruption at the BOC.
Calling the accusation unfair and the order a threat to the livelihood of thousands of customs brokers, Carmona said his organization would fight against its implementation.
Assuming the President was not joking when he made that accusation, he was barking up the wrong tree. Corruption at the BOC is an institutional, rather than a sectoral, problem.
Misdeclaration or undervaluation of goods (or smuggling) and bribery are rampant at the second highest revenue raising agency of the government because its systems and procedures breed corruption or otherwise provide opportunities for the commission of those offenses.
Smuggling continues unabated because smugglers know how to game customs regulations and, in case they are caught, are able to cite loopholes that allow their escape from prosecution.
And the few who are prosecuted manage to delay their trial until the witnesses against them lose interest or the damning evidence mysteriously disappear.
Businesses whose continued operation depends on the timely delivery of imported materials are at the mercy of customs officials.
When the processing and release of imports are delayed for one bureaucratic reason or another, the importers’ brokers cannot be faulted for greasing the palms of customs officials to be able to meet delivery dates.
More so, if the goods are perishable or are tied to critical manufacturing or operational deadlines.
No importer in his or her right mind would engage in acts of bribery unless the attending circumstances compel him or her to do so. Every centavo paid as bribe adds to business costs.
Recall that prior to the appointment of Secretary Rogelio Singson to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in 2010, this office was considered one of the most corrupt government offices.
After shuffling a few officials, Singson overhauled the DPWH’s systems and procedures on the conduct of public works bidding and monitoring of the progress of constructions to minimize opportunities for corruption. When he resigned in 2016, the DPWH ceased to be tagged as corruption-laden.
To the credit of now Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, he enhanced the same systems and processes so the DPWH remained relatively “clean” in terms of incidence of corruption.
But efficient and less corruption prone procedures are meaningless unless their implementation is supervised by a competent and honest leader.
When the line supervisors and rank-and-file employees see their leader as upright and will not tolerate any hanky panky in the performance of their official duties, they will think twice before engaging in any unlawful activity.
To paraphrase a famous saying: Show me who your leader is and I will tell you what kind of followers he or she has.
Sadly, the BOC has the misfortune of being led by two commissioners who failed to live up to the President’s expectations of a corruption-free BOC. Whether or not the present BOC commissioner would be any better than his predecessors remains to be seen.
Before getting rid of customs brokers, the President may want to check if the problem of corruption can be traced to the internal mechanisms and leadership of the BOC.
The customs brokers are not angels. They have their own share of corruption at the BOC. But to make them principally responsible for it is uncalled for.
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