By Yusuf Soraan
The Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) is a computerized system designed by the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to administer a country’s Customs (UNCTAD, 2006).According to UNCTAD, Itis an automated Customs data management system that can handle all Customs clearance related processes. This is done by implementing simplified and harmonized procedures, and standardized trade documents. The system allows for the electronic processing of declarations, risk management, transit operations and expedited clearance of goods, in addition to collecting timely and accurate statistical data for fiscal and trade policy objectives.Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) Program was developed by UNCTAD in the early 1980s to automate the operations of Customs Administrations. It is presently installed in 84 countries. The program was developed to support Customs Administrations in their objective of trade facilitation and efficiency of Customs clearance control. UNCTAD has developed three versions of ASYCUDA so far and is currently rolling out ASYCUDA World.
ASYCUDA Version 1 (1981–84) operated on early personal computers (PCs). Created at the invitation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Secretariat, its main achievement was to assist in the preparation of trade balances and other related trade statistics. Implemented in three countries, it demonstrated that computerized Customs clearance systems could be developed on low-cost computers.
ASYCUDA Version 2 (1985–95) took advantage of the availability of new programming languages and new operating systems for PCs. This version introduced Local Area Network computing in hundreds of Customs offices, allowing for a comprehensive integration of functionalities. Initially running on the only multitasking operating system (PROLOGUE) available on the market, ASYCUDA Version 2 was, over the years, overhauled by the UNIX operating system, opening the way to high transaction volumes and, consequently, ASYCUDAimplementations in large Customs offices. UNCTAD does not develop its functionality anymore. It was introduced in 40 countries and still operates in 15 countries that have not yet migrated to ASYCUDA++.
ASYCUDA++ (1992–present) is based on real client-server architecture, takes advantage of the power of object-oriented programming languages and uses the potential of relational database systems such as Oracle and Informix. From a technical standpoint, ASYCUDA++ is an advanced Customs information system that integrates a number of modern and robust technologies. ASYCUDA++ built on the full suite of Customs modules provided inASYCUDA Version 2, and added more Customs functionality, particularly in the areas of direct trader input, risk management, and transit monitoring. ASYCUDA++ client computers feature a text-based, multi window user interface. The most common operating systems on ASYCUDA++ client computers are MS/ Windows 9x and MS/Windows XP. The ASYCUDA Program has incorporated the complementary use of another generation of technological tools and the emergence of the widely used Internet environment. A first outcome of this work is that the current version of ASYCUDA++ allows Customs brokers to submit declarations through the Internet. TheASYCUDA++ EU Version is currently operational in four European countries that became members of the EU in May 2004—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia.
ASYCUDA World is UNCTAD’s solution for E-Customs. The development of this system began in 1999 and a first roll out (in Moldova) was undertaken in early 2004. It allows Customs Administrations and traders to handle most of their transactions—from cargo manifests and transit documents to Customs declarations— via the Internet. Its platform is based on a sophisticated technical architecture that does away with the need to maintain permanent connection with a national server—something that is especially important for countries with unreliable telecommunications. Where telecommunications are more reliable, the traditional World Wide Web approach can be used.
ASYCUDA is a complete and fully integrated Customs computer system. The ASYCUDA interface makes operation easier for the user by presenting the system to the user in the form of task specific modules and modules designed for the needs of an office or of a particular grouping of functions. ASYCUDA system modules are grouped into main three types, according to function: –
1. ‘General office User modules’ are for basic or mainstream Customs processes, such as the input and processing of declaration data, and Customs controls.
2. ‘Specialist User modules’are generally for Customs support functions. These functions integrate with or add to the main Customs processes of the General office modules.
3. ‘System Maintenance and Reporting’ modules manage the running of the ASYCUDA++system on a day to day basis.
Abundant experience around the world has made it clear that the single most important ingredient for effective tax administration is clear recognition at the highest levels of politics of the importance of the task and the willingness to support good administrative practices even if political friends are hurt (Bird and Casanegra de Jantscher, 1992). Unfortunately, very few developing countries have so far proved able to leap this initial hurdle. More frequently, urged by international agencies or simply desperate to get more revenues, countries have launched frantic efforts to corral defaulters or to rope in new victims without hurting politically powerful interests and without providing the time, resources and consistent long-term political support needed to do a good job.
Berbera custom there is an urgent need for reform of the archaic and bureaucratic system of revenue assessment and collection presently in force. Computerization is the answer, and fortunately there is in existence a system of revenue assessment control and accounting designed specifically for countries with emerging economies. ASYCUDA (Automated System for Customs Data) is in use in over eighty countries and regions world-wide, including twenty-nine countries in Africa. It is a computerized system for manifests, customs declarations, accounting procedures, bonded warehouses; inward and outward processing relief’s and transit control. ASYCUDA also generates trade data for statistical purposes. Although ASYCUDA can be configured to suit individual custom regimes, such as a national tariffs and legislation, it is most effective when used in conjunction with the accurate and effective Harmonized System (HS) of tariffs and the Single Administrative Document (SAD), which should also be introduced in conjunction with ASYCUDA.
This year Berbera custom decided to computerize revenue collection and administration in the Custom by introducing computer software called the automated systems for customs data, which is part of Finance Ministry’s Public Finance Management Reform (PFM) Programme. Berbera custom obtains the maximum possible benefit from the implementation of automated system for customs data, for instance the outstanding benefits of the introduction of ASYCUDA are in the areas of manifest control, production of accurate, meaningful statistics, and the elimination of many manual calculations and accounting procedures. The resulting release of operational staff from desk bound repetitive tasks will enable the Somaliland Customs to develop other areas of customs control, such as effective border patrols, search of vessels, development of intelligence, prosecution of offenders and more selective control of passengers, furthermore Automated System for Customs Data of berbera custom offers several additional benefits to the government, including facilitation of compliance management, risk analysis, timely and accurate trade statistics, and revenue collection, and made it easier to trade across border and also a willingness to co-operate with neighboring countries’ customs services, particularly Ethiopia.
No doubt that Berbera custom’s automation mainly results in increased transparency in the assessment of duties and taxes, substantial reductions in Customs clearance times, and predictability. All these factors will eventually lead to direct and indirect savings for both government and the trading community. More specifically, benefits usually include: Simpler, more transparent procedures and documents, based on international standards; Faster electronic lodgment of Customs declarations, using Direct Trader Input (DTI) or other on-line connections; Reduced Customs clearance times and less physical examination of shipments owing to the use of risk management applications; Increased collection of duties and taxes and less fraud due to the uniform application of laws and regulations, the automated calculation of duties and taxes as well as built-in security; Reduced Customs auditing of documents and records after release of the goods; and separation of payment of duties and taxes from the physical clearance of goods (under deferred payment schemes, e.g. payment by week or month); Enhanced capacity building of staff and management in both Customs and the private sector (e.g. through training courses on simplified procedures and documents based on international norms, UN recommendations and WCO standards); and Improved and timely foreign trade statistics as trade data are an automatic byproduct of the computerized system.
The recent automated System for berbera custom could protect the national interest; for instances computerized risk-management systems determine the routing of transactions for Customs control according to criteria established by Customs officers specialized in enforcement and intelligence gathering. Customs controls aim not only at protecting fiscal revenue and detecting fraud and smuggling but also at ensuring secure trade in the face of the terrorist threat. Since 11 September 2001, security measures need to be reconciled with expedited Customs clearance of goods. This can be achieved only by using modern, computerized procedures that track and target high-risk consignments and reduce the number of physical inspections (UNCTAD, 2006). ASYCUDA’s risk management system capitalizes on over 25 years of experience in the computerization and implementation of Customs operations worldwide. ASYCUDA covers the whole declaration-processing path, including cargo and transit. It uses sophisticated tools, from the classic selection of the examination procedure and the allocation of the declared goods to a control ‘channel’ —green, for the release of goods without examination; yellow, for documentary checks prior to goods release; red, for physical examination of the goods prior to release; or blue, indicating that goods will be released but will be subjected to a post-clearance audit control by Customs— to the use of multimedia, scanned images and wireless devices. State-of-the-art technological tools provide Customs officials with immediate remote access to intelligence and control databases. Customs controls can now be undertaken in situations where this was not possible before —for example; to stop cargo in transit and verify that the paper documents presented correspond to what has been declared at departure, or to perform on-the-spot checks of a container’s content and the status of the goods (cleared, in transit, etc.). The system permits the periodic assessment of risk-management processes in order to measure the effectiveness of selection criteria and to change, extend or eliminate risk management parameters as needed. The transit module of ASYCUDAincludes forgery-proof electronic documents, electronic signature, and registration of all transactions. No data re-entry is required by carriers or at border crossings. The system can process transit documents such as the TIR Carnet. It allows for the full integration of transit procedures into the Customs clearance process with transit documents being generated from waybills and export declarations.
Customs’ main functions are to control the cross-border flow of goods, ensure compliance with government rules and regulations, to collect the duties and taxes due according to the national Customs tariff and tax code, and to protect the country against the import of goods and materials intended for illegal purposes, and against terrorist activities. This complex work can be facilitated through the use of computer systems consisting of comprehensive and integrated software packages with a number of functionalities or modules, such as: Cargo control, to monitor all movements of import, transit and export, and ensure that all goods are either duly cleared before release or a mechanism is in place that allows for the release prior to clearance; Declaration processing, to capture and process data for duty and tax collection; Payment and accounting, to register and account for payments by importers and exporters; Intelligence operations, to store and exchange data for risk profiling and enforcement, and risk management to select consignments bearing a higher risk of concealing duties and taxes, or those prone to smuggling and trafficking illegal substances and materials; Statistics and reporting, to extract data for foreign trade statistics and to generate management reports for Customs. Today, there are different software packages available often developed jointly by the public and private sector. The most widespread system is ASYCUDA, developed and implemented by UNCTAD since 1981 in more than 90 countries and territories.
Lesson Learning of Ethiopia Automated System for Customs Data
Ethiopia has started towards modernizing its Customs Administration through massive computerization of Customs offices and complete automation of Customs procedures. This was done with the introduction ofVersion 2.0 of ASYCUDA (Automated System for Customs Data), a software developed and designed byUNCTAD, in 1994. This was followed by the supply of adequate number of computers to the office. The computerization and automation process later expanded to other major Customs stations. Today theASYCUDA System is being used by different Custom offices .Such computerization and automation programmes were carried out under various modernization projects undertaken by the ERCA with funds from donor agencies.
The major features of the ASYCUDA++system used by Ethiopian Customs authority are- Log Register of users, Declaration processing, Selection of level of risk (Blue, Green, Yellow, Red), Assessment of Goods, and Payment and Release of Goods. While carrying out the above-mentioned computerization and automation of Customs procedures, the Customs Administration in Ethiopia was driven by the desire to achieve the following objectives: to reduce cost of doing business; to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the Customs system; to ensure transparency & accountability; to ensure protection of proper revenue; to facilitate paperless transaction on an e-trade environment; to minimize human interference; and to make information available to stakeholders for better trade facilitation
MBA of Tax and Custom Administrator
Graduate Institute of Tax and Custom Administration in Ethiopian Civil Service University
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