Twinning: Customs administrations cooperate in Georgia
Finnish Customs participated in a two-year Twinning project aimed at creating better customs administration in Georgia. For Finland, this was the first project conducted under the 2017 Twinning Manual. “For our specialists, the Twinning project provided an opportunity to build their expertise while gaining valuable experience of international cooperation,” says Arto Lillman, Chief Legal Councellor at Finnish Customs, who acted as the Resident Twinning Adviser in Tbilisi.
The objective of the project, which began in March 2018, was to support the accession of Georgia to the Convention on the simplification of formalities in trade in goods and to the Common Transit Convention (CTC). In practice, the project aimed to simplify the goods transit procedure, to facilitate the work of local authorities and economic operators by clarifying the related rules, and to enhance economic integration through harmonised legislation and customs procedures.
Since the common transit procedure requires electronic processing systems, helping Georgia to upgrade its information systems was an important part of the project.
Other participating EU Member States besides Finland were Latvia and Poland, with Czech Republic and Slovakia also providing support. The main partner in the beneficiary country was the Georgian Revenue Service (GRS). The more specific objectives involved developing legislation, updating IT capabilities, and strengthening the competence of GRS personnel.
The consortium showed significant commitment in its work and was able to achieve the set objectives. Similarly, cooperation with Georgian partners was successful, even if the local decision-making process seemed rather rigid at times.
“One of our most important achievements was the Draft Act on Transit Procedure. However, the draft act cannot be incorporated into Georgian customs legislation as such. How the necessary amendments to Georgia’s transit regulations will reflect the content of the draft act depends on the Georgians,” Arto Lillman explains.
Focus on communication and flow of information
The biggest challenges had to do with the internal flow of information, as is often the case in international cooperation. The Twinning project coincided with another customs legislation development project in Georgia, which involved some EU participation. However, the Twinning consortium received very little information regarding progress made with that project.
“It was unclear how the two projects were interlinked, which made our work more difficult since both projects seemingly had the same objective: to develop customs legislation. Effective communication is important, particularly when it comes to EU-funded activities, in order to avoid unnecessary overlaps,” says Pirjo Kotro from Customs administration, who acted as the EU Member State Project Leader. “In addition, there was some uncertainty as to how to proceed with the planned IT procurement. Despite these challenges, we were very pleased with the overall success of the project,” Kotro underlines.
The consortium invested in external communication. It organised a kick-off and a closing event, and held a press conference on progress made in July 2019. Project visibility was further supported online and with communications material.
“We maintained close contact with the media; for instance, Arto and I were interviewed on television a few times. Both the press conference and the closing event were attended by local business representatives who made good comments. This was an indication of good mutual cooperation between the Georgians,” Pirjo Kotro says.
Learning new practices
The rules applied in the Twinning project have been compiled in a Twinning Manual published by the Commission. The Commission updates the rules every few years and publishes a revised Manual, most recently in summer 2017. A further update was made in late 2018. For Finland, the Customs project in Georgia was the first Twinning Project conducted under the revised Twinning Manual 2017. This involved some difficulties.
“Activities are now planned for about six months at a time. We feel planning should be made for longer periods as it is important to have a bigger picture of the project for several reasons, including budgeting. In this respect, we found the new rules a little difficult. My advice to colleagues carrying out Twinning projects is to prepare a budget for the entire project period for your own use,” Pirjo Kotro says.
For the EU delegation in Georgia, this was the first project conducted under the 2017 Manual, which is why it did not have all the answers to the questions that came up. This underlined the importance of cooperation and open dialogue.
“On the whole, our cooperation with the EU delegation was fruitful. We learned many new things, and it was overall a very useful experience,” Arto Lillman notes.
Twinning is first and foremost about working together to achieve specific goals. The activities bring together colleagues working with the same themes in the EU Member States and in beneficiary countries, thereby promoting networking. Finnish Customs recognises the value of new contacts.
“We remain in touch with our contacts in Georgia. We were also able to establish good contacts with experts from various participating EU Member States. These will certainly be useful in the future, too,” Pirjo Kotro points out.
Twinning encourages participating EU Member State Short Term Experts (STE) to consider their work from new perspectives. Making presentations and answering questions from colleagues in the beneficiary country often provides more clarity to the experts themselves. Similarly, sharing experiences with experts from other EU Member States is considered fruitful.
“Having to justify why things are done in a certain way is particularly useful. We tend not to think about things like that in our daily work, but they offer an excellent opportunity to build and reinforce our competence and understanding. This added capital will benefit not only the Short Term Experts themselves but also their home administration,” Arto Lillman concludes.
Eerikki Vainio, Specialist, the Twinning Team of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Finland and Georgia in Twinning
Georgia celebrated its 10th anniversary of Twinning last autumn. Georgia has been conducting projects since 2009, and especially in recent years it has been a very active player: of all the EU neighbourhood policy countries, Georgia accounted for the largest number of calls for tenders for new Twinning projects in 2018 and 2019. Finland has participated in four projects in Georgia. In two of these, other participants included the Finnish Institute of Public Management Ltd (HAUS), in one project Finnish Customs, and in one project still under way Statistics Finland.