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Computerization of the Bureau of Customs

Ike Señeres .

I HAVE been a witness to failed computerization projects in the national government, and that is why I could speak with some authority about the subject of computerizing the operations of government agencies. The case of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) however is not about failure, because at one time, a major computerization project had already succeeded in that government agency, except that it was not sustained. It was no secret in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry that at one time in the history of the BOC; the Automated System for Customs Data (Asycuda) was already successfully implemented there, by no less than Unisys, one of the leading ICT companies then and now. Asycuda was introduced and backed up by no less than the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), in line with its goal to assist local customs authorities all over the world to automate their core customs processes.

At one time or the other, there were about fifty (50) operational projects funded by Unctad worldwide. It was Unctad’s largest technical cooperation program, involving at least 80 countries. Upon its completion in the Philippines, it became so successful so much so that many customs officials from all over the world were already coming here to observe how we were able to do it. In a manner of speaking, the local implementation at the BOC became a shining light in the customs world, until the dark forces within the agency sabotaged the system by pouring foreign objects into its servers. But even if Asycuda died in the Philippines, its use was continued in many other countries and by now, it has already evolved into its fourth generation, now called Asycuda World. Sad to say, it is only in the Philippines where the system failed, not because of system defects, but because of the graft and corruption that has engulfed that agency then and now.

As far as I could recall, Asycuda was developed way beyond the mainframe era, hence it was already build in a client/server (C/S) infrastructure, albeit with its own proprietary operating system (O/S). What that means is that there might have been a data center within the premises of the BOC where the in-house servers were installed, and that is probably where the sabotage of the servers happened. Fast forward to the present times, it is now possible to build a fully operational ICT infrastructure without having a data center within the premises. That could be done by having servers and storage devices in the internet cloud, where the computerized systems and the databases could no longer be sabotaged. Of course, there could still be data privacy and data protection issues involved, but very good ICT professionals have the science down to pat now. If I am not mistaken, Asycuda World would already have a cloud version or option by now.

As far as I am concerned, it would not make sense for the Philippines to spend for, or develop its own system if and when we could still avail of the option to install Asycuda here, with the assistance and support of Unctad, using the latest version of course. But if and when that is no longer possible, we could still develop our own system without spending so much for it, by using open source block chain technology. Admittedly, block chain has gotten some bad press lately because of its association with some crypto currency scams, but there is always a way to separate the bad eggs from the good ones. In reality, block chain is the programming approach that could be used for many purposes, and crypto currency is just one of its purposes. In broad terms, we could say that block chain technology could be used to record all transactions in the customs processes, without any data being erased, and without any possibility of being sabotaged.

Looking back at want happened in the BOC long ago, there was no problem with the hardware and software, because the problem was with the manpower. Although it could be said that not everyone in the BOC is corrupt then and now, it is very clear that those who are corrupt succeeded in sabotaging the computerised systems at that time. Looking up ahead, we now have to make sure that those who are corrupt within the agency would not be able to sabotage whatever computerized systems that we are going to put back in place. As it is now, the timing could be perfect to bring in a new system, because President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has removed everyone in the agency who could potentially be corrupt. Bear in mind however that the President is trying to solve is not just the corruption in the BOC, but also the supply chain of illegal drugs that somehow loops within the customs processes.




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