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A look at Customs’ ASYCUDA

A look at Customs’ ASYCUDA

In recent times, the Customs and Excise Department of the NRA came under accusation by, especially some section of the public as being corrupt. It even became serious when President Koroma turned the spotlight on the Customs and Excise Department (CED) leading to the exposure of a business magnet that was said, had wanted to defraud the state.  (Photo: Haja Kallah, Acting C-G & MS Bamba CED Commissioner)

Generally speaking, Customs and Excise Department of the National Revenue Authority is one of the major operational departments generating revenue for government. Other departments include Income Tax and the Goods and Services Tax. The Non Tax Revenue department has also been seriously mobilizing revenue for government. Because of the  crucial role of the Customs and Excise Department in revenue mobilization and because  most of the revenue generated by the NRA comes from this department , it often and again would lead to suspension and distrust from among people on what is actually happening at Customs. But I hold the view that officials at Customs should be trusted; there are bad eggs of course but there are committed workers as well.

There have been moments when even people would blame Customs for delay in clearing of good from the Quay. This is often the case, even when the true picture is that the process of clearing goods from the Quay does not.  If, you are, say, trying to clear a container from the Quay, you would have to undergo some procedures which are not only under the purview of Customs. This has been a major challenge for NRA staff at Customs.

The CED has key responsibilities towards our socio-economic development. The fact remains; it is part of the function of CED to ensure national security by preventing the importation of prohibited goods, protecting our national borders plus its function of revenue mobilization for government.  It is because of this particular function that the department was able to even go beyond its yearly target last year.

However, in trying to address the problem of perceived corruption  by importers  or alleged  delay in clearing goods at Quay, which has most often wrongfully been placed on the part of CED, the department  has just finalized the introduction of the  Automated System for Customs Data, ASYCUDA, which  is a computerized system designed by the United Nations Commission on Trade And Development  to administer customs. The system came into full operation on the 1st of this month and it is now in operation.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia states that ASYCUDA is the largest technical cooperation programme of the United Nations Commission for Trade And Development (UNCTAD) covering over 80 countries and 4 regional projects. And that currently ‘there are three different generations of ASYCUDA in use: ASYCUDA 2.7, ASYCUDA++ and ASYCUDA World…all of them were built using different paradigms and solutions available at the time of conception, being ASYCUDA World the most recent one and less used so far (early 2009)…’ That UNCTAD premise was to build a computer system to assist customs authorities (or their local equivalent) all over the world to automate and control their core processes and obtain timely, accurate and valuable information to support government projections and planning.

ASYCUDA has been in operation in African countries like Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mauritania, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, Congo, and Rwanda  among others. Sierra Leone has not lagged behind, but has been progressing in getting same. In trying to address the problem of perceived corruption and delay in clearing goods at the Quay, the NRA, through the Customs and Excise Department has finalized the introduction of the Automated System for Customs Data, (ASYCUDA), which is a computer software package that is used by Customs Administrations in about 90 countries, in processing documents which relate to clearing of goods.

The system was developed by the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development which covers mot foreign trade procedures.  It takes into account international best practices and handles accounting, transit and suspense regimes. It handles also manifest and customs declarations. The ASYCUDA ++ system helps to accelerate clearance and simplifies procedures while at the same time providing government with reliable and timely information to formulate macroeconomics and fiscal policies.

ASYCUDA ensures fast clearance of goods, and at the same time accounts for revenue collected and compilation of trade statistics. It creates room for an open and transparent operation within a country’s Customs Department. it reduces the time one takes to go down to the Quay to clear goods .An importer would only need to declare and process all relevant documents concerning his goods/container(s)  within hours and not days.  In the same vain, it minimizes contact between NRA (CED) staff and the business community. There will now be an electronic manifest obtained from ships and there will be a new type of declaration called Single Administrative Declaration and a new processing path for the clearance of goods.  So in a way, one could argue that the introduction of ASYCUDA is directly in line with President Koroma’s determination to curb corruption. 

This system has been introduced with a view of improving on the revenue collection effort for government by the NRA and also with a view of addressing concerns that have often come up, when people go to clear goods from the point of view of customs. Indeed, CED has made history and it has joined other customs operators around the world in modernizing its operations.

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