Tech to help battle corruption, says Sars

Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane has launched a new container scanner in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane has launched a new container scanner in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - People make the difference to the success of new technology deployment, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) has said as it rolls out upgraded cargo scanners at key ports.

"We can invest in technology, but if it is not supported by the people who are passionate in what they do, that which we saw when we opened the scanner in Cape Town can only become a white elephant," Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane told Fin24.

The agency debuted a new cargo scanner, which is expected to curb the incidence of fraudulent shipment documents, resulting in a loss of revenue for Sars.

Unlike previous generation devices, the large scanner is able to "see" inside containers using a multitude of radiation technologies, allowing officials to compare the image with documents.

But Moyane said that the human factor was critical to ensure the technology was properly utilised.

"Technology is an enabler, but our people are the ones who operate that technology and therefore you have to have a match between the technology and the person."

Corruption risk

According to a report by Control Risks, corruption is one of the main reasons for trade bottlenecks in Africa.

"The most commonly cited reasons for bottlenecks at African ports are lack of capacity; outdated and inefficient port infrastructure; administrative blockages; and corruption in port and customs authorities," wrote senior consultant Jonathan Bray in the Corporate Investigations report.

Sars spent R38.5m on the imported scanner, while local companies were employed for construction and implementation.

Officials examine the new Sars scanner in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

In 2014, the agency collected R986bn, with Customs contributing about 9% of the total. Sars data shows that SA imported goods to the value of R443 109 671 776 from January to May 2015.

However, the 2008 study On the Waterfront: An Empirical Study of Corruption in Ports examined the cost of corruption at Maputo and Durban, and found that corrupt behaviour had a material effect on shipping.

"We  show  that  bribes  are  high,  frequent,  different  across  ports  and  quantitatively significant for port officials. At the most corrupt port, bribes are paid in more than half of the shipments going through the port. The average bribes increases total shipping costs for a standard 20ft container by 14% and can represent up to a 600% increase in the monthly salary of a port official," wrote Sandra Sequeira of Harvard University and Simeon Djankov from IFC in their conclusion.


Moyane recognised the role that clean management should play to ensure corrupt-free Customs services.

"You need to have dedicated people who understand the mission and the reasons why they've been employed and why that technology is used," he said.

The majority of international South African trade is conducted by ship. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

But in many cases, Sequeira and Djankov suggested, there isn't enough sanction for officials involved in corruption.

"Both ports have similar passive sanctioning systems, whereby action to punish an official for engaging in corrupt behaviour is only taken upon a user's report of a bribe solicitation," they said.

Moyane said that he was somewhat of an evangelist, and expected a shift in the culture of officials in the management of Customs, aided by technology.

"We are all evangelists in the sense that we are visionaries: We want to see the fruits of what you harvest in the future

"We can inculcate a culture for our people to take a positive look, supported by the advanced technologies and analytics to stop those who are involved in illegal trade and activities."

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