By Namakando Nalikando Sinyama, B.Sc Forestry,BAHRM
The illegal international trade in commodities such as ozone depleting substances, toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes and endangered species can seriously undermine the effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements.
Building the capacity of Customs Officials, who are at the forefront of every country's efforts to combat illegal trade, is vital. Training is a key component of capacity building, but can be time consuming and expensive.
The World Customs Organization (WCO) offers extensive training to customs officers with the objective of ensuring the implementation and uniform application of the customs conventions that it administers.
The Secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) that have trade provisions, such as the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, have already instituted training programmes for customs officials, in cooperation with the WCO, at both the national and regional levels.
Customs officer training is also anticipated to be an important element of the national implementation of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, once these enter into force.
In UNEP Governing Council Decision 21/27 on "Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements", the Council recognized that the environmental damage caused by illegal trade is growing, and that continuous efforts are required by relevant agencies to address the problem.
UNEP GC SS VII/4 Decision on Compliance with and enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) requests the Executive Director to take measures through the programme of work of the United Nations Environment Programme and in close collaboration with other international organizations to facilitate the implementation of the guidelines, and to take steps for advancing capacity-building and strengthening of developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, and countries with economies in transition, in accordance with the guidelines.
Governing Council Decision GCSS.VII.I on "International Environmental Governance" encourages initiatives to enhance collaboration, synergies and linkages between conventions on issues of common interest, such as illegal trade.
The purpose of integrated training is to raise the capacity of customs officials on several multilateral environmental agreements at the same time, which can be more cost effective and efficient than separate training on each individual agreement.
The Zambian Customs Authorities perhaps not realizing the full implication of their re-designed recruitment and resourcing policy of drawing its new crop of staff of fresh graduates from diverse professional backgrounds were inadvertently preparing themselves for the future of World Customs. This fact is borne from the observed practice where after a wide pool of professionals from diverse scientific disciplines are recruited into Customs services of the Zambia Revenue Authority, these employees find themselves quickly reaching an organizational glass ceiling in as far as ‘career’ progression is concerned. When the basic instinct of employee self-preservation kicks in, they resolve that, to fully self-actualize they must rise through the ranks and make all efforts to achieve this such as gaining further training in their respective fields. Their ambition is quickly curtailed however, when they discover that even when they were initially taken on as graduates from various disciplines such as chemical engineering, Forestry (who are Environmental Conservation & Natural Resource Management experts), Ecology, Agronomy, Mining Engineering, Metallurgy etc; they cannot gain further knowledge in these disciplines while still employed in Customs of ZRA. The explanation that is given has been that these are not exactly the core areas of the organizational business focus. This has caused an outbreak of mass enrolment in so-called commercial courses offering business-oriented qualifications such as CIMA, ACCA, CAT, MBAs etc. because of the perceived organizational bias towards promoting, recognizing and sponsoring them. This, whether they like to admit it or not has been due to a very wrong administrative misconception that World Customs is more about meeting and exceeding revenue collection targets where they see effective performance can be easily quantifiable in figures and less import is thus paid to equally serious enforcement and regulatory responsibilities of environmental protection and international trade control obligations especially as regards Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) which we find ourselves as nations having ratified and are signatories to. The harsh reality is, though, that when these revenues in taxes are collected and committed, by respective governments, towards national development initiatives, the people may not fully benefit if they are put at risk by the transnational border trade in dangerous and lethal substances or those that damage the ecological fabric which in turn reduce the quality of life on the living planet.
The unfortunate result of this from a human resource perspective has been the risk of segmenting the work force into those that can further their chosen careers and those that have found themselves with a prospect not of their own choosing, of not being able to study further with the organization’s blessing and support.
This leads to another potentially controversial area when it comes to staff selection for who attends a training programme and who does not qualify. The experience has been that, even when not everyone can attend these training courses, more often than not it leaves many an officer asking why others were picked and they were not. Once I had a colleague who was told in no uncertain terms that if she went ahead and took up a science related post-graduate programme of study for which she had earned a scholarship while still working for customs, she was told that upon returning from her Masters programme, was free to apply for any vacant position within the Zambia Revenue Authority. It did not take her long to discern that that was a bureaucratic euphemism for being politely sacked or forfeiting her current position as an officer of customs. In a related incident, as a personal experience, was when a colleague who had studied IMIS was picked to attend a workshop on Ozone depleting substances and their impact on the environment leaving me with an environment related qualification. Granted, that every employee has an equal opportunity of being familiarized with different training programmes, however when the criterion for picking staff is not given much forethought, the levels of appreciation and benefit accruing to the organization from such funded programmes would be reduced. Herein lies a potential risk of losing objectivity and giving in to subjective tendencies fueled by all sort and manner of isms, this is Africa!.
The control and regulatory duties that customs administrations the world over are engaged in would immensely benefit from their already existing crop of employees with specialized knowledge especially if this is coupled with continued training and exposure to the latest information and practices in these fields.
Some of us have a natural bent for all things scientific so that no matter how hard we tried we cannot become accountants! Therefore when filling out official forms outside work and are asked what profession one is, it is difficult to say Customs Officer with the conviction it deserves as the customs basic course hardly makes one from a scientific background a ‘professional’ in the sense of holistic Customs approach as envisaged by The Green Customs Initiative. This is made worse by the total disregard and little or misapplication, underdevelopment and thus stagnation of the qualifications that made us employable and appreciated in the first place. Well, granted that after being employed these professionals are subjected to a Customs Basic Course to ready them for a rigorous business or commercial job description this am afraid to say scarcely prepares us for the challenges of combating illegal trade in commodities of environmental concern in the 21 st century and beyond.
This is quite puzzling to say the least, because what it has ultimately done is to have many graduates effectively shelve their professional qualifications and their instruction of many years, education earned at a great many family financial sacrifice, at great tax payer and government expense gather dust and their brains become rusty, all the knowledge forgotten. This situation has left many of us in permanent state of job search; there is nothing that can be more de-motivating than this and effectively robs employees of their full contribution and potential.
It is therefore my sincere hope that The Green Customs Initiative offers the greatest opportunity of correcting this unfortunate state of affairs. It must be understood that even as I write this am well aware of the possible recriminations that may arise if the powers that be were to see my views on the matter. The explanation is, in our part of the world expressing ones views is not always received well by those in authority and positions of influence as they wrongly see it as an affront instead of an opportunity to make improvements for the betterment of the organizational design, national development and more importantly collaborated international efforts in the potentially exciting and challenging Career of World Customs Administration.
NAMAKANDO NALIKANDO SINYAMA, B.Sc Forestry, BAHRM
Barotseland, Central Africa
“I tell you a truth, liberty is the best of all things, my son, never live under a slavish bond.” – Sir William Wallace’s Uncle