So Doug is in Tanzania, working on something mysterious designed to make the world a better place. On a previous excursion to Congo, Doug discussed the general malfeasance of the Congolese government. He also thought hard about the administrative competence of the Belgian bureaucrats who ran the colonial government. They ran that government to little purpose, but they ran it efficiently.
One way to stylize Congo’s dilemma is that the government can’t control its own agents. To which there may be a solution: get foreigners to do it.
Kris Mitchener and I have just written a brief piece for Paul Romer’s Charter Cities blog that summarizes our work on customs receiverships and Crown Agents. The piece draws from the early 20th-century experience of circum-Caribbean countries with customs receiverships, where countries relinquished management of their customs services to a small group of American managers, and the early 21st-century southern African experience of doing the same thing with a small group of British managers. There was a failure — the fellow who was able to run customs in Haiti found the more sophisticated Panamanians running rings around him when he became the fiscal agent there — but in general corruption went down and collections went up. Crown Agents, the organization that took over in the 21st century, had an earlier cameo on this blog.
Politically feasible? Well, Angola and Mozambique did it. So did several eastern European countries (in a slightly disguised form) when customs corruption looked set to hold up their ability to join the E.U. Long-term benefits or spillovers to other parts of the government? Well, at best the jury is out. But sometimes peoples need their governments to do certain things well right now.
Read the piece and tell us what you think.