By Melito Salazar Jr.
In the last few weeks, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has been in the news starting with its inability to stop the entry of significant shipments from China of prohibited drugs. This escalated to alleged corruption in the top levels of the bureau cascading down to almost all corners of the Customs office. Senator Ping Lacson exploded more revelations with a list of corrupt officials which was answered by the now resigned Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon with the revelation of the alleged involvement of the senator’s son in cement smuggling. Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines President Ernesto Ordone weighed in with the disclosure that their letter to BOC Commissioner Faeldon on the alleged smuggling had been with the commissioner for sometime but no action was undertaken. It’s beginning to look like a “tit for tat” situation.
This state of affairs has cemented in the public consciousness the belief that corruption in the BOC is so widespread and deeply entrenched that whoever the President puts as head will not be able to arrest the decay. Either he gets swallowed up by the system or his staff will run circles around him. The public is impatiently waiting for a final solution especially with a President Duterte who is seen as able to deliver the punch to knock out the criminals if not the chop that sets their heads rolling.
The President may be open to “out of the box” proposals, starting with downsizing the Bureau of Customs. I initially thought of suggesting the abolition of the bureau and transferring all its functions to a private entity which will be paid on a percentage basis of revenues collected and after meeting stringent metrics. However, I realized that there are still some functions that needed to be done by a government entity and a core group could be maintained. Inspection of goods shipped to the country can be done on a pre-shipment basis as was conducted when the government had a contract with SGS. Payment and collection of duties will be done by the private corporation together with general management which can be subject to an oversight committee composed of legislative and executive officials.
The core group of government bureaucrats will act as a special unit tasked to focus on preventing and apprehending smugglers engaged in economic sabotage – agricultural products, cement and steel products, illicit drugs. They will also be able to conduct spot checks to ensure that the private entity is doing its job well. Powers will be given to this core group to ensure the complete process of unearthing evidence, building up a case, and filing these cases in court to ensure that convictions are secured. Appointments to this core group will not just be based on merit but nominees will be vetted thoroughly to ensure integrity and honesty. Fresh honor graduates from reputable academic institutions with compensation comparable with the private sector would be good choices.
Almost all of the personnel of the Bureau of Customs will be retired or retrenched. Whoever is retained will have to have very strong endorsement from the private sector businessmen who have been in the forefront of fighting smuggling like the Federation of Philippine Industries. In fact, the core group could have a board coming from these businessmen as well as having a few of them as part of the oversight committee over the private entity.
To ensure that the past is not forgotten, the University of the Philippines could be commissioned to come up with the history of the Bureau of Customs and how in different administrations, Malacañang may have interfered and itself caused the ineffectiveness of the bureau. The interventions of the legislature can be chronicled from appointments to interceding for favored importers so that the public can appreciate how their elected representatives acted more for their personal interests rather than that of the country. This case study will be rich with lessons for the future. More importantly it will identify accountability and ensure transparency.
Adopting these “out of the box” proposals could be the start of a true change that President Duterte promised the Filipino people.
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