In line with its strategy and in an effort to reduce corrupt demands, MACN pursued a collective action in Argentina, which resulted last year in the successful adoption of a new regulatory framework for dry bulk shipping that reduces corruption risks for the industry and elevates the country’s culture of integrity.

The Challenge

In 2014, MACN recognized through its anonymous incident reporting mechanism frequent recurring reports of financial demands made during the vessel clearance process in Argentina.

Every cargo ship entering Argentine waters must pass certain inspections, including those carried out by the Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASA), the government agency that guarantees the quality and healthiness of Argentine agricultural products. SENASA performs an important regulatory function. However, several problematic incentives converged to undermine the integrity of the system:

  1. Inspections were at the discretion of the inspectors and not objective, as the criteria for rejecting a hold were unspecified and unclear.
  2. Failing an inspection was costly, since it meant ships were considered off-hire. Depending on market conditions, port costs and commercial delays accrued from each extra day in port could amount to more than US$50,000 per day.
  3. Inspections were recorded with paper records, which made data aggregation difficult or impossible.
  4. The system lacked a reliable appeal or reporting mechanism to allow companies to seek redress for alleged non-compliance.

Together, these conditions facilitated bribery (where ships in bad condition would pay to obtain clearance) and commercial extortion (where officials would not provide clearance to ships in good condition without a facilitation payment). 

Our Strategy

To address this challenge, MACN sought to understand the root causes and devise solutions with a coalition of champions. MACN and local partner Governance Latam, in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, catalyzed a collective action program to investigate the root causes of the problem and support SENASA in reforming its procedures to tackle systemic corruption.

MACN and Governance Latam first interviewed more than 40 ship owners (MACN members), port agents, private surveyors, public inspectors, maritime lawyers, maritime insurance officials, representatives of grain houses, and public officials from the maritime sector. These interviews established that a mid-level public-private network of individuals was responding to a corruption-drive incentive structure. As a result of this dialogue, MACN defined the objective of the project as the modernization of the inspections system to be less discretionary, more transparent, and more accountable.

MACN and Governance Latam developed a broad coalition to develop and agree on the key points for a new system that would be both integrity-oriented and feasible, balancing the commercial interests of multiple stakeholders in the context of a process that remains critical to Argentina’s foreign trade.

In parallel, we also prepared for the implementation phase, seeking funding to support training and the development of communication materials to inform stakeholders of the new practices.

Our Outcomes and Impact

Following a series of public consultations on the new regulation, MACN’s collective action resulted in a new regulatory framework in Argentina that reduces discretion in the inspection of holds and tanks, establishes a system of cross-checks to increase integrity, provides an escalation process when disputes occur, and creates an e-governance system to underpin the framework. Inspections will be conducted by registered private surveyors, and, in case of conflict, bulk carriers will be able to request supervision of these inspectors from SENASA.

 Audience at a training session following adoption of the new regulatory framework. (Photo by Fernando Basch.)

Audience at a training session following adoption of the new regulatory framework. (Photo by Fernando Basch.)

Moving to a system of inspections primarily conducted by private surveyors has great potential to reduce solicitation and extortion, as incidents may be resolved in an expedited fashion. Facing an improper demand from a private surveyor, a vessel’s master or its local agent can simply call the surveyor’s office, report the incident, and request intervention by SENASA, making the private inspector and its employer subject to sanctions and even disbarment.

MACN believes that these changes will increase the efficiency, integrity, and transparency of inspections, reducing the possibility of ship delays for unclear or unfounded reasons and facilitating the smooth passage of vessels to the benefit of frontline crew, global trade, and the Argentine economy.

Since implementation of the new system, MACN has provided information to industry, inspectors, and other stakeholders explaining the changes, including hotline contact details. Thanks to funding from the A/S D/S Orient's Fond, Governance Latam has also provided training to more than 400 local industry, private-sector, and public-sector stakeholders, and the course has become official government training material for SENASA staff.

Lessons Learned

To effectively address corruption from country to country, we have learned that it is critical to recognize different interests and drive ownership for sustainable change. The following lessons in particular stand out:

  • Understand how corruption works in specific instances by answering questions like these:
    • Who is actually getting the illegal payments, and for doing what?
    • What are the economic drivers of the corruption scheme?
    • How do incentives work for each stakeholder?
    • Why has the corrupt scheme endured?
  • Understand the good-faith commercial interests of each group of stakeholders, as well as the operational and practical limitations to regulatory change.
    • Commercial incentives and operational practices may be as or even more important than legal risks in determining the stakeholders’ behaviors.
    • The pursued reform should therefore be business-driven as well as integrity-driven: It should make sense in the context of business, either by making it easier or less costly for the stakeholders involved to do business.

Further, once the above facts are established, a successful anti-corruption initiative requires a coalition of the willing and local ownership from government, civil society, and local business networks. Companies are just one part of a larger system, and the entire system needs to be engaged in the process for change—raising the bar on efficiency, integrity, and good governance.

Finally, while local ownership is critical for implementation, support from international headquarters is essential to ensure that all business partners are aligned on expected integrity practices, from the maritime companies, port agents, and inspectors to the cargo owners whose products are being shipped around the world.

MACN’s work in Argentina is a model example of how stakeholders can work together to successfully combat corruption for the benefit of society at large.

Originally published at bsr.org.