Deepening Customs-to-Customs collaboration: the URA-KRA storyBy Uganda Customs
By deepening their collaboration, the Customs services of Uganda and Kenya have managed to optimize processes, facilitate trade operations, and strengthen enforcement capacities. Their story is a testimony to the fact that no amount of investment or innovation can solve problems without consensus on the way forward and collaboration at the decision-making and operational levels.
During the latest update of the WCO SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, in 2018, the Customs community aimed to give a new impulse and significance to the strengthening of cooperation between and among Customs administrations. Cooperation in the Framework is deeply associated with enhanced supply chain security and efficiency, based on mutual trust and transparency.
The Framework lists exchange of information, mutual recognition of controls, mutual recognition of authorized economic operators (AEOs), and mutual administrative assistance as some of the avenues of collaboration, effective measures that have been proven to go a long way in dealing with some of the traditional problems faced by Customs administrations globally.
Uganda and Kenya are members of the East African Community (EAC), a regional intergovernmental organization consisting of six partner states, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The EAC countries established a Customs Union in 2005, a Common Market in 2010, and aim, ultimately, at more economic and social integration between partner states.
Significant strides have been made to boost cooperation between EAC countries, especially between their respective government agencies. At the border, several one-stop border posts (OSBPs) have been created as part of the EAC’s coordinated border management policy. But, just as it is at the national level between government agencies, most of the cooperation is oftentimes at a basic minimum. Deep collaboration never comes naturally, but can be cultivated and nurtured by the strong commitment and goodwill of leaders.
Uganda has been grappling with a number of problems, such as persistent cases of smuggling, delays in transit, theft of goods, forgery of documents, and mis-declaration of goods. Consequently, several projects have been implemented by Uganda over the years to improve its capacity to mitigate these problems.
With the above in mind, efforts have been put into building a strong and modern Customs administration, by, for example, centralizing document processing or investing in non-intrusive inspection. Many of these measures have successfully served their intended purpose, and yet, many challenges remain, leading to the conclusion that no amount of investment or innovation would solve some of these problems without collaboration, cooperation, and consensus with our key stakeholders.
The Port of Mombasa in Kenya handles over 80% of Uganda’s maritime cargo, and the level of efficiency of operations undertaken by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) highly influences the performance of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), especially in the area of trade facilitation. While examining avenues for improvement of our own processes, we identified the need to review our collaboration policy with the KRA. With like-minded leadership, the URA-KRA Customs administrations decided to hold a bilateral meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. Key on the agenda for discussion was the:
- integration of our respective national Integrated Customs Management Systems;
- deployment of each other’s staff within our respective administrations;
- formulation of a joint compliance strategy;
- management of the Regional Electronic Cargo Tracking System;
- integration of our respective non-intrusive inspection systems;
- review of our joint valuation framework;
- development of joint capacity building programmes and a joint innovation hub.
A bilateral agreement was finally signed on 2 August 2019, marking the start of a fruitful journey, which gave birth to several joint working groups and brought to light the notion that, if everyone moves forward together, then success takes care of itself. Great things are never done by individuals, and we seldom reach our goals without the help of others. We have had to put a lot of effort into change management and the monitoring of the agreed action points, lest the efforts amount to null. This has called for a special joint team to monitor the implementation of the agreement, and continuously maintain the momentum.
From this collaboration, we have reaped a seamless, cooperative system to the benefit of both Customs administrations and other stakeholders. Not only have we managed to curtail the diversion of transit goods into the local market and the disappearance of containers, there has been a considerable reduction in paperwork, leading to faster clearances. In addition, joint enforcement operations have greatly reduced cases of smuggling, and the joint compliance strategy has resulted in reduced forgeries and mis-declarations.
Among other things, the strategy provides for a back-to-back reconciliation process: once a risk has been identified by the KRA on goods in transit to Uganda, upon confirmation (possibly through verification inland by Uganda), the results are relayed back to the originating country (Kenya) to update their risk register.
There is also a synergy in the utilization of equipment such as that pertaining to non-intrusive inspection with images and other data produced being shared between administrations when needed. It is worth mentioning that all the above measures have also reduced avenues of corruption.
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this renewed collaboration has enabled us to monitor the movement of trucks to ensure that operators of unknown health status do not circulate in the community’s member countries. This has allowed continuity of the supply of goods amidst a nationwide lockdown.
These numerous results are a testimony to how much we can do together. We are now keen to promote the approach that we adopted, which is in line with the WCO’s principles and values. Moreover, we are confident that our holistic approach is necessary to optimize and secure the international trade supply chain, while enabling wholesome improvements in trade facilitation.
We would like to encourage other Customs administrations to consider our experience and prioritize the development of Customs-to-Customs collaboration, Customs-to-Business partnerships, and Customs-to-other government agencies cooperation. Together we can achieve more, with less.