As the volume of containerized cargo continues to grow exponentially, many countries are buying container scanner systems in an effort to modernize their customs operations. These scanners not only speed up time but they also help to ensure that inspection is done efficiently. This is by far much better than manual inspection which is labor and time intensive. When the customs people are tired, they do not even inspect at all; they just go by what the person has declared.

The non-intrusive inspection of cargo by scanners also reveals discrepancies between the declaration made in the prescribed documents and the cargo actually stuffed inside the containers. This helps to curtail container fraud and ensure that governments reduce revenue losses from tariffs and excise taxes resulting from container trade. Use of scanners also helps to prevent the movement of drugs, firearms, toxic substances, radioactive products, etc.

These scanners are generally expensive. But the long-term benefits are huge. Which is why governments all over the world are investing in them. Some of the African countries that are using container scanners include Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Last month, it was reported that Tanzania is buying two mobile heavy-duty scanners in order to ease congestion at the Dar-es-Salaam and Tanga ports. Each scanner costs about $5 Million.

Having passed through the Mwanza border post, one of the busiest customs points in Malawi, a number of times, I have observed that there are no scanners. Customs people still inspect all goods manually. And I am sure all other customs points do it in exactly the same way. Considering the benefits that come with scanner systems, is it not important for government to equip these points with such systems? I know we do not have a lot of goods flowing in and out of the country compared to the likes of South Africa and Tanzania. But still, scanner systems are necessary for our customs points. As the economy continues to grow, the volume of inbound and outbound goods will  increase rapidly. It will become extremely difficult for the customs people to inspect the goods manually.

Way back in 2001, Australia Customs signed a contract with Tsinghua Tongfang Nuclear Technology Co., Ltd. for buying two sets of container scanner system, THSCAN, which are developed by the latter . These sets were to be installed in two customs in Australia’s Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Tsinghua Tongfang Nuclear Technological Co., Ltd. was expected to carry out personnel training and after services in order to guarantee smooth operation of the exports in an alien land. NUCTECH continues to offer a wide range of  inspection systems.Of course, there are many other options online. But NUCTECH’s page gives a good starting point for policy makers to understand the capabilities of scanner systems and start planning.

The Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) may also wish to learn a thing or two about container scanner systems from their Tanzainan and Zimbabwean counterparts, who seem to be way ahead on this issue. The country really needs to have these systems.

UPDATE: Take a look at a followup post on this issue here.