The Ethiopian Revenue & Customs Authority plans to launch a new customs management system developed for 4.7 million euros and financed by the European Union.
The new system, Electronic Customs Management System, replaces the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), which has handled manifests, customs declarations, accounting procedures and transit procedures for the last 15 years.
While 2.5 million euros was spent to upgrade the system’s software, the balance was used to improve infrastructure and capacity over the past four years.
The new system, which has two integrated components, has been under development since 2016 by Webb Fontaine Group and is expected to go live by the end of this year.
One of the interfaces is for internal use and is called Trade World Manager. It helps the authority reduce paperwork and increase efficiencies of repetitive procedures.
The external component enables clients to make customs declarations and trace shipments through an authentication mechanism. The Electronic Customs Management System has features that enable users to make web-based customs declarations from anywhere using different platforms including mobile phones.
A pilot program that automates and integrates operations on the main transit corridor of the country, connecting customs offices between Galafi, along the Djibouti border, and Qality in Addis Abeba, has been running since October 2017.
Except for the Tax Authority’s offices at airports, 11 branches have installed the system. The airport branches are currently training staff and will go live by the end of the month.
“The system is flexible for upgrading and the adaptation of future demands,” said Salim Mohammad Abalaa, Webb Fontaine Ethiopia Project Office manager. “The staff has been trained, and the national team can run the upgrading of the system when there is a need.”
Webb Fontaine is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and provides e-government software products, electronic single window portals and customs automation.
“We will be implementing a one-year system stabilisation effort after the project goes live,” Ababu Emiru, project manager at the authority told Fortune.
The new system has different layers at its core to secure customers’ documents.
“We have secured the system using different layers in the operating system, the software itself and the online application protocols,” Ababu adds.
The authority has worked with 800 customs declaration applicants thus far, testing how the new system will be used.
“We will continue training customers on site. We have also planned to set up workshops to boost awareness about the new system,” Ababu said.
Experts commend the technological advancement, yet question the characteristics, the legal framework and human resources quality of the authority.
“I don’t think the authority has the organisational structure and human power ready for the implementation of the new system,” said Yohannes Woldegebriel, an expert with broad experience in tax laws. “The authority should have introduced a legal framework before piloting the system.”
Legal frameworks have been finalised, and it will be communicated through directives and circulars, according to Ababu.
“Also, the authority may face bottlenecks with this new system as ASYCUDA was implemented by interconnecting different countries and different systems by the United Nations,” Yohannes told Fortune.
The ASYCUDA system was developed in Geneva by the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development three decades ago.