Kyiv, 16 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Most of the people working at the office in Kyiv of the international courier firm DHL are paid to speed the flow of packages to the courier firm's customers in Ukraine. And then there are the three resident customs officers enforcing Ukraine's import rules.
Along with agents assigned to monitor the work of other express delivery firms in Ukraine, they often make a mockery of the word "express" in the industry's name.
DHL customs broker Stanislav Buria says the agents enforce the law so literally that shipments are delayed over even minor documentation flaws. A former customs officer himself, Buria estimates that his former colleagues delay from a quarter to a third of the firm's incoming packages.
Other international courier firms in Kyiv privately make the same complaint, but some have learned that it doesn't pay to speak up. A Federal Express employee who identified himself as the director of the Kyiv office told RFE/RL that he once talked to a reporter about customs problems and had what he called "very big problems" as a result.
DHL recently commissioned a survey of large corporate customers. Respondents rated Ukraine negatively for clarity of clearance procedures and progress toward a simpler system. Only Romania, Bosnia and Yugoslavia were judged to offer less straightforward rules. No nation, Uzbekistan included, was deemed to have improved them as little as Ukraine.
DHL Commercial Manager Vadim Sidorouk puts it this way: "Customs has little sense that more satisfied customers for us means more business and more income for Ukraine."
Mid-level customs officials say they are merely doing their jobs. They say that customs inspectors must follow the law as written."
Customs Major Pavel Timokhin defends the customs service, in his words: "We try and work with the courier companies, but I think the courier companies often make promises in the West that they cannot keep here.
Some examples of customs roadblocks:
- Videotapes, CD-ROMs and floppy disks entering the country require individual export licenses under legislation enacted in July to protect international copyrights. That means each video game sent to a friend in Ukraine must be approved by an office within the Communications Ministry. One DHL shipment ran into trouble recently because it included a corporation's annual report stored on computer floppy disk. The same material easily could be transmitted electronically via Internet.
- A Customs Committee rule blocks courier shipments of financial instruments such as credit cards, travelers' checks and even blank checkbooks, although customs officers have been known to look the other way if those items are labeled as documents.
- Foodstuffs require certification from the State Quarantine Commission and quality approval from a State Food Committee.
- Medicines need the blessing of the Health Ministry.
- Electronic equipment must be vetted for radiation hazards by the Ukrainian Standardization Center for radiation and electric hazards. But communications equipment like mobile phones, satellite antennae, and pagers, deemed to pose no threat of radiation, fall under the purview of the Communications Ministry. - Christmas presents often fall under regulations written to control wholesale manufacturers subject to taxes and licensing approvals. That's if the shipper uses a courier company. The same thing sent by mail invokes different rules allowing goods valued at up to $200 to pass into Ukraine unimpeded. Last week, managers of express delivery offices in Kyiv met with customs agents in an attempt to rescue Christmas fruitcakes that might otherwise be held hostage until July.