The Effectiveness of the Measures Implemented by MRA to Address Integrity Problems at Customs

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1. INTRODUCTION

The present chapter describes the background of the study, the research problem, aim and objective, followed by the significance of that study to the stakeholders and concerned parties. Thereafter, the format of the study is enumerated by providing a brief outline on each chapter forming part of this dissertation.

It is a fact that corruption has become a much studied social relic as many stakeholders and regulators recognise the harmful nature of corruption. Customs-related corruption costs state treasuries roughly $2billion world-wide each year in lost trade taxes – not counting value added taxes and excise duties (Michael, Ferguson and Karimov, 2010). It is imperative that Customs agencies undertake significant reforms programmes to avoid major pitfalls ahead. This is where stems the importance of conducting such a study to determine whether the measures implemented are effective in tackling that dreadful scourge.

1.2. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

In many countries, public institutions have always been perceived to be highly corrupt or judged to operate in total opacity. Customs is no exception. According to the Bribe Payers Index (2008), cited by Fjelstad (2009), Customs administration is perceived by business executives to be one of the most corrupt sectors of government in many African countries. Case studies from individual countries and regions across the continent provide a grim picture of the problem and find that the most discredited institutions are the police and tax administration, including Customs (Igbanugo, 2012).

In another survey conducted by Michael et al. (2010), respondents identified corruption in Customs as a serious problem. Survey respondents consistently identified Customs as one of the most rapacious organisations – consistently ranking first among long lists of government institutions.

In Mauritius, in order not to derogate to that common belief, successive national surveys conducted by Taylor Sofres Nelson in 1999 and by StraConsultin 2002 (cited in StraConsult, 2004), revealed the Mauritian Customs as being a highly corrupt department. This perception was further corroborated in another survey commissioned by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), where the respondents interviewed cited Customs as being the most highly corrupt institution (StraConsult, 2004). Furthermore, Customs officials were also highly perceived to demand bribe for the services rendered.

In face of this daunting task of addressing integrity issues in Customs, the authorities decided to take the bull by the horns by adopting a range of practical anticorruption strategies. The efforts were further strengthened in 2006 with the operation of the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA).

In fact, with the establishment of the MRA, high hopes were infused by the government to tackle the sensible integrity issue in Customs. The MRA became the sole agent of the State for collection of taxes and management, operation and enforcement of the revenue laws. The erstwhile tax and revenue collection departments such as Customs, Income Tax, Value-Added Tax (VAT) and Large Taxpayer were, therefore, all regrouped under the same umbrella (MRA, 2007).

Therefore, significant measures were implemented by the MRA so as to be in line with its vision to be a world class revenue authority respected for its professionalism, efficiency, fairness, integrity and its contribution to the economic and social development of the country. Besides, integrity is one of the main core values of the MRA so as to gain the respect and confidence of taxpayers, stakeholders and the public at large (MRA, 2007).

This study, therefore, covers the wide spectrum of measures implemented by the MRA Customs to tackle integrity issues. The study also assesses whether these measures have been effective in tackling that ramping corruption problem.

1.3. RESEARCH PROBLEM

This study attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures implemented so far by the MRA in tackling corruption issues in Customs. In fact, the MRA came up with a comprehensive Reform and Modernisation Programme, based on international best practice, to deal with that integrity problem in Customs. Many procedures, practices and systems were completely overhauled so as to make way for modern and transparent operations at Customs. The results of the study also provide indication in which areas or sections reinforcement of integrity measures need to be undertaken by the MRA.

1.4. AIM OF THE STUDY

The aim of this study is to assess the effectiveness of the measures implemented by MRA to address integrity problems at Customs.

1.5. RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The four main objectives of this study are the following:

  • To identify the integrity measures implemented by MRA;
  • To identify the weaknesses of the measures implemented at Customs;
  • To identify “grey” areas which breed corrupt practices at Customs; and,
  • To make recommendations to reinforce integrity in the Customs Department.

1.6. RESEARCH QUESTIONS

From the above research objectives, the following research questions have been derived:

  • What are the integrity measures implemented by MRA?
  • What are the weaknesses of the measures implemented at Customs?
  • What are the “grey” areas which breed corrupt practices at Customs?
  • What recommendations can be made to reinforce integrity in the Customs Department?

1.7. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

The national survey commissioned by ICAC in 2004 on the public’s integrity perception exposed a very dismal situation in Customs (StraConsult, 2004). That was at the time when the MRA was not yet set up. This research, therefore, presents the opportunity to evaluate how the various measures implemented by the MRA have succeeded in dealing with that integrity issue. Besides, the setting up of the MRA was done with a clear vision “to be a world class Revenue Authority respected for its professionalism, efficiency, fairness, integrity and its contribution to our economic and social development” (MRA, 2012).

The findings and recommendations which may result from this study may benefit many people who are either directly or indirectly involved with Customs matters.

In the first instance, this study may assist the Management of the MRA in evaluating the present situation of the day. In fact, the findings of this study will guide the Management in which areas or sections integrity measures need to be reinforced or whether the measures already implemented need revamping. By so doing, this will increase efficiency, fairness and integrity within the Organisation.

MRA Customs’ employees will also benefit from this research. Their image has been yoked for years as being “bribe” takers. Through this research they will identify the “grey” areas where the risks are higher and they can help in mitigating the opportunities for corruption. This will help them gain respect, self-pride and motivation in performing their duties.

This study will also help taxpayers. The recommendations provided by the study will help in curbing any further avenue, if any, for corrupt practices in Customs. Taxpayers will feel that they are treated in all fairness and transparency, and can help in boosting voluntary compliance level.

The government will also benefit from this study. In order to set up the MRA, the government invested massively in infrastructural supports, personnel and logistics. Through this study, government will gauge whether all their efforts in combating corruption have reaped the expected results. A corruption-free economy is conducive to foreign direct investment influx which, in extension, an important recipe for sustainable economic prosperity (Nichols, 2009). Besides, many international researchers and institutions regularly survey different economies to publicly rank them according to the integrity of their borders.

The neighbouring African states from the COMESA, SADC and IOC counterparts will also benefit. Tax and Customs officials from these countries often come to Mauritius under mission and study tour programmes to survey the MRA’s best practices. This study may, therefore, assist them to implement measures in tackling integrity issues in their own organisations more efficiently.

1.8. FORMAT OF THE STUDY

This section provides an overview of the relevant chapters that form part of this dissertation.

Chapter One is the Introduction which gives information about the research that is being undertaken, the research background, aim and objectives, and the significance of conducting such a study.

Chapter Two is the Literature Review that provides a critical analysis and evaluation of existing knowledge pertaining to each of the research problems that this research has sought to explore.

Chapter Three is the Research Methodology where information about the chosen research methodology is being covered and discussed.

Chapter Four is the Results, Discussions and Interpretation of findings. The findings from the survey conducted have been interpreted using the SSPS and excel tools.

Finally, Chapter Five is the Conclusions and Recommendations. In this section, the recommendations from the survey and the knowledge obtained from the stakeholders have been elaborated.

1.9. CONCLUSION

This chapter has, therefore, encompassed the research background, the research problem, the aim and objectives, and significance of the study. The integrity problem faced by major Customs authorities has been underlined too. Mentioned has also been made about the various studies and perception surveys conducted in Mauritius confirming the dishonourable top notch which the Customs Department occupied as being the most corrupt public institution.

In the following chapter, the research works and studies of several academics and scholars on integrity issues are being covered.

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