Cont’d from Front Page Airport Customs… [Archives:1997/52/Business & Economy]

December 29 1997

At the Airport By: Bin Sallam & Jamal Awadhi, Yemen Times
The new system adopted by the Customs Authority at Sanaa Airport aims to simplify procedures and reduce the crippling paperwork in Yemen’s seaports and airports. However, many think that corruption is so ingrained in the system that this step will not bring about the expected change. Some parties have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. Reforming the customs system requires a lot of financial and moral support. The World Bank’s declared stance will not be enough. There has to be more cooperation from the relevant official and private organs. Generously rewarding customs employees and providing them with adequate salaries will make them not need to take bribes. Mr. Adnan Ba-Khulqi, a member of the customs reform technical team, expressed his hope for this new step, provided it gets enough support from the state. He described the new measures as “quite modern”. They will reduce the time needed to process customs clearances from 3 days to 3 hours. “The number of officials required to sign a given document is reduced from 50 to 2 or 4,” said Ba-Khulqi. Also, the number of employees has been reduced to about less than 40%; keeping the most competent and trustworthy ones. However, Mr. Ba-Khulqi emphasized the need for the employees to get good pay. “Special training courses were organized to acquaint employees with the new simplified procedures,” explained Mr. Ba-Khulqi. Mr. Najeeb AL-Kibsy of Natco, who was processing a customs clearance form when the Yemen Times was on hand, indicated the new customs system will “need some perseverance to see it through and a lot of adaptation on part of those who got used to the old system.” He added, “The customs technical team will have to intensify its efforts in order to make this new step bear fruit.” However, as many people dealing with the customs authority have attested, filling in the newly introduced forms requires some accuracy and knowledge of what they are about. “Some people also stressed the need to raise employee salaries as many of them demand money for putting their signatures on the people’s papers.”
We spoke to the key customs official, Mr. Hafidh Miyadh, General Manager of the Sanaa Airport Customs Office.
Q: How different is the new customs system? A: The new system aims to reduce and simplify clearance procedures. It relies mainly on the mutual trust between the customs officer and the trader or importer who is supposed to provide true and accurate information. Providing false information will lead to huge fines on the trader or the confiscation of the goods. Secondly, this system will preclude any form of bribes that used to be given to some customs officials. The system will also help in documenting accurate data that will assist in the country’s development and in identifying our foreign trade trends. It has revolutionized the administrative procedures. Many countries have preceded Yemen in taking such a step. On the first day of operating the new system, our officials were able to complete processing 16 declarations, and 32 declarations on the next day. In some other countries, they were able to finish processing only 1 or 2 declarations during the first day. All of our staff are Yemenis, except for the technical experts who are overseeing the introduction of the new system. We assigned a complete technical team for this task to deal with all problems as they arise.
Q: What are the main difficulties that you faced in introducing this system? A: The major problem was that the customs clearance agents were not knowledgeable on how to encode the information and make it computer readable. The procedure involves transferring the data from the detailed declaration to an encoded form. We have now assigned more than 7 of our employees the task of filling in the necessary data for the people concerned, traders and customs clearance agents.
Q: How much resistance does the new system face? A: Since we have just started, there are a few problems that need to be sorted out first. Very soon, however, people will see a great difference. In the old system, a customs declaration needed a large number of signatures, reaching about fifty of them (please refer to the forms above). Now a customs declaration would be taken by the official concerned who gives the trader an invoice. The procedure would then take a few hours; only the inspection remains.
Q: How have the importers responded? A: As far as traders are concerned, the system has greatly facilitated their business. But some of the customs clearance agents will lose out because they used to draw a lot of money from the traders.
Q: What about other airport organs, how receptive have they been? A: The response is great from all sides. There are some procedural differences with the security department, but a common ground will soon be found. The aim is to simplify procedures to better serve.
Q: What other developments have been introduced in the airport? A: Well, computerization will be introduced within the next six months.
Q: Has the number of employees remained the same? A: No, the number has been reduced from 130 to 50 only. This will enable us to provide more incentives for the remaining small number of employees.
Q: What happened to the warehouses? A: The warehouses are run by a private investor under our supervision. The investor is wholly responsible for the warehouses.
Q: Any last word? A: We will conduct meetings with representatives of the Sanaa Chamber of Commerce in order to explain the new system and seek their cooperation in solving the problems importers face in customs clearance. We’ll also discuss with the Foreign Ministry the problems faced by the diplomatic corps regarding customs procedures, etc. A new green and red line system will also be introduced at the airport in 1998. Travelers will have to be responsible for declaring what they are carrying. We’ll be carrying out random inspections of passengers passing through the green line.
2. Mr. Douglas Cruickshemk is the World Bank advisor at the Ministry of Finance. He is responsible for supervising the implementation of the new customs system.
Q: Could you tell a little about the implementation of the new customs system? A: The Ministry of Finance and the Custom’s Authority are planning a comprehensive reform of the whole import/export regime in the process. They have asked the IMF to give some support in this step, to explain how the process may be made more transparent, and provide more service. The fundamental change is that the importers, or their agents are now responsible for completing their custom declaration. In the past, the custom’s officers were doing this and it was a very slow, very cumbersome process and a very difficult process to facilitate so we want to streamline the system and modernize it. We have adopted international standards as far as the customs declaration form is concerned, and the actual process itself is in accordance with the international standard, so we’re working towards that. The first practical step has been implemented here at Sana’a International Airport.
Q: How is the new system operating so far? A: It is taking some time for both the traders and the custom’s officials to adopt the new system, and we will see some growing pains as the system is introduced. But I think that perhaps in a week or two weeks we’ll see that the system works much better as the importer is going to have a complete the declaration form in the office the by the evening of the day before, and then bring it into the custom’s office and then the process should move more quickly.
Q: Anything to add? A: We also need to work with the security agencies to sustain the examination process, to make sure that the release of goods is done in a way that the government assures itself of collecting the duties and taxes that should be applied and that the business people get a service. We want to make it easy for the business people to pay their duties and taxes, so this is the objective of this system as it supplies a new service.