Op-Ed: Customary Annoyances

الأربعاء 12 تشرين الثاني 2008

Written By: Marwan A. Kardoosh, Economist

Name the single, most common complaint members of the Jordanian business sector have today. If you answer “Customs,” you are probably right. Sadly, the same holds true for regular citizens. As any Aramex Shop & Ship customer would tell you, the Customs Department has been dragging its feet in releasing imported personal items under the guise of censorship. In my case, a Playstation 3 basketball game and a Nintendo Wii football game have been under careful “investigation” for 4 days!

Not that I am at all surprised. For all the recent talk of serious economic reform, the Customs Department in Jordan remains in shambles, continuously ignoring the wishes and needs of the private sector to become more efficient and to help form the basis for sustainable growth and development. The reasons for this include an underdeveloped organizational structure of the administration, a substantial deficit in the qualifications of the Department’s employees and mindset problems. Despite some improvements here and there, partly thanks to automation and the usage of better technology, customs procedures in Jordan are still very time-consuming, requiring a large number of staff to implement and heavily impinging (directly or otherwise) on the local business sector by impeding the flow of goods (both exports and imports).

For Jordan to move forward, the uncertainty and high cost of dealing with government administrations like Customs have to be abolished, and the bureaucracy in general has to become much more responsive. Focusing solely on the technical level, by attempting to tackle such fundamental problems through computerization, is not enough and the reform will mainly consist of window-dressing gestures. In my opinion, the fault lies in deep societal habits that cannot be overcome by computerization and/or training, but will necessitate a major overhaul of the Customs Department beginning with its senior management. A starting point may be to announce an open tender for the top spot in the department, a la what was done at the Jordan Investment Board, so as to attract competent talent from the private sector. I say private sector because I think that the Customs Department should operate like a private entity, where carryover bureaucracy from is not tolerated. Another suggestion would be to peg Customs-Department officers’ wages to productivity, such that workers are encouraged to perform, or else face the risk of redundancy.

Applying such methodologies and making them succeed is, of course, a tall order, and the process is also an expensive one.

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