Article: Abdul Haye Sheikh Additional Director Directorate General, Reforms & Automation (Customs)

Abdul Haye Sheikh Additional Director Directorate General, Reforms & Automation (Customs)

Customs geared up to reforms and modernization in Pakistan

The reform and modernization programme was started by Pakistan Customs in 1994 when Pakistan Revenue Automation Limited (PRAL) was set up as a small ICT company associated with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

It is now one of the largest ICT solution provider company in Pakistan offering business process re-engineering, software development, managing large data centers, designing and executing wide area networks, operational and technical maintenance services.

In the past, PRAL developed One Customs system for clearances of all types of international cargo such as import, export and transit, on the recommendation of FBR and its attached formations. However, the administrative set up was changed in recent past and Customs professionals were assigned the task to guide the technical resource in specifying the software requirements and to monitor the work of PRAL.

In this regard, Directorate General of Reforms & Automation (Customs) was established on August 12, 2014 with the mandate to develop new systems in the light of international best practices on the recommendation of FBR. The Directorate General is manned by Customs professionals who specify the software requirements and monitor three small teams of PRAL. The following functions are also included in its mandate:Amendment, improvement, modification or re-engineering of the existing systems on the recommendation/approval of FBR;

  • Development of performance benchmarks of Customs business processes;
  • Recommendation to FBR for hiring of consultants on need basis, in respect of automation or reform initiatives;
  • Facilitate development of Requirement Specification for Electronic Data Interchange at the operational level;
  • Facilitate design and development of Websites for field and support formations of Customs department;
  • Identify the need for procurement, installation and maintenance of hardware, software and networking equipment for Customs department; and
  • Facilitate the provision of technical support to the field and support formations and address all kinds of mal-functioning.

The short term policy is to create a paperless environment under the Web Based One Customs (WeBOC) system for all Customs processes to ensure an effective service delivery. The present coverage of the WeBOC system is 88 percent in terms of value and 86 percent in terms of number of Goods Declarations (the single administrative document for clearance of international cargo). The remaining cargo is cleared under the semi-automated One Customs system.

The medium term policy is to integrate all the regulatory authorities (INTRA) with the system which have to issue a certificate, document or report in connection with the clearance of any international cargo whether import, export or transit. These authorities include the federal ministries, government departments and agencies.

The long term policy is to create a national single window which will provide a platform for electronic data interchange/exchange with the international Customs organizations and other agencies.

For example, electronic exchange of certificates of origin with reference to Pak-China Free Trade Agreement is in progress. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between Pakistan Customs and International Air Transport Association (IATA) for implementation of IATA Cargo-XML standards in the launch of new manifestation framework for the airlines operating in Pakistan and IATA Advance Passenger Information (API) exchange standards.

In 2006, Pakistan Customs started Integrated Cargo Container Control (IC3) programme that facilitates the outbound cargo by using non-intrusive detection with reduced scanning cost destined to the United States (US).

This measure also helps control illegal transportation of arms, radioactive materials and narcotics. In 2012, Pakistan Customs started Safe Transportation Environment (STE) project to manage risk of Afghan Transit (AT) cargo and to reconcile cargo data at the entry and exit points. It is taking place on real-time basis by tacking and monitoring of vehicles carrying AT cargo.

The critical requirements identified are container-vehicle synchronization, electronic geo-fencing, alert on route deviation, container door monitoring capability, route-time monitoring, un-authorized stoppage, data analysis and reporting, and option of satellite-based or hybrid (satellite + ) tracking devices with auto-switching.

The development project namely Integrated Transit Trade Management System (ITTMS) worth $316.86 million jointly funded by FBR and Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been launched for development of trade related infrastructure at border crossing stations of Torkham (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Chaman (Balochistan), Wahga (Punjab) and Ports of Karachi and Bin Qasim (Sindh).

The Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) has provided grant in aid and started a project known Gantry Type X-ray Container Inspection System for security improvement in Port Karachi and Port Muhammad Bin Qasim. For the purpose of Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII), three units of the Gantry Scanners including X-ray container inspection system shall be installed in the X-ray inspection buildings situated on these ports.

The afore-referred programs and activities clearly reflect that Pakistan has made a considerable progress regarding WCO’s SAFE Framework of Standards, Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) and WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

Major development in this direction is five years project (Sept; 2015 to Aug; 2020) namely the Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity (PREIA) Project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). PREIA’s focus area is trade promotion and facilitation in collaboration with public and private sector to improve competitiveness resulting into increased volumes of trade and transit.

Inter-agency cooperation is a major problem in reform and modernization process for the reason that other government departments, ministries and agencies are not at the same stage of ICT solutions as Pakistan Customs is.

As a result, integration of any new module in the system involving other agencies is always a time consuming activity starting with preparation of a Business Requirement Document (BRD) involving lengthy discussions and deliberations followed by installation of required hardware by the respective agencies and training of the users.

The second problem is recruitment and selection of IT professionals required for analysis of business requirements, design and development of software and post deployment operations and maintenance.

The third problem is procurement of hardware including enhanced capacity servers, networking and system security equipments which are imperative at this stage.

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