Reforms outlined for ‘corrupt’ Customs

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MANILA, Philippines — Reform measures are being readied in the “corrupt” Bureau of Customs under the Duterte administration, incoming finance and customs chiefs said on Tuesday.

“The public is telling us something and we better listen. Are we going to change? Otherwise we will have to force it,” incoming Finance Secretary Cesar Dominguez III said in a statement.

“The perception of Customs as the most corrupt agency has to stop,” he added.

Dominguez met with outgoing Customs commissioner Alberto Lina and his successor, Nicanor Faeldon to facilitate the transition at the agency. The next administration takes over noon of June 30.

The bureau’s tag of being “most corrupt” came from a survey of Social Weather Stations in August last year where it was rated a “very bad” -55 by businessmen. This followed a “bad” grade in 2012 and “execrable” ratings from 2005 to 2009.

Lina could not be reached for comment. The Department of Finance (DOF) oversees revenue offices such as Customs.

Under President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, Faledon said Customs will focus more on trade facilitation and have target indicators that measure it, instead of just revenue collections.

The bureau, which traditionally accounts for a fifth of state revenues, had persistently fallen below its collection targets and was even down two percent from previous year as of the first quarter.

Specifically, Customs collected P90.5 billion as of March, lower than P92.3 billion raised in the same period last year, Treasury data showed.

“Performance indicators should contain grading on ease of doing business and facility of trade,” Faeldon said in the same statement.

Transparency will also be prioritized, he added, saying he will improve accuracy in product valuations by adopting a “trade transparency unit” similar to the setup in the US.

Valuations are used as bases for the amount of Customs duties. Under the present administration, weekly valuations of select products were made public through the Customs website.

According to Faeldon, there should be “daily” monitoring of shipment valuation coupled with updated scanning systems to prevent smuggling.

On the flip side, the next Customs chief said he would keep the ongoing graveyard shifts and 24/7 operations of Customs personnel, which was meant to declog ports.

For his part, Dominguez said he would continue filing charges against smugglers and erring Customs officials under separate programs to deter illicit trade and raise revenues.

Dominguez, however, expressed dismay that no Customs officer has been fired despite pending cases with the Ombudsman.

As of May 15, there were a total of 282 cases against revenue officials filed by the DOF’s Revenue Integrity Protection Service, 157 of which were filed since 2010.

The cases involved 282 personalities, 216 of whom were sued before the Ombudsman, 61 before the Civil Service Commission and five were referred to their concerned agencies for action.

Of the persons sued, 24 were dismissed from office under President Benigno Aquino III, while 29 others were suspended and six were fined, DOF data showed.

“We will file as many cases against violators… as we have evidence to justify such actions,” Dominguez said in an email.

“As leaders of the institution, you have to send the message down,” he said in the statement.

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