The ASYCUDA Myth Part 1: Is UNCTAD fostering a No-Bid Sole Source Contract for ASYCUDA World? A CARICOM Case Study.

I ran into the following article today and could not help but see this news item paints a very clear picture of how the UNCTAD/ASYCUDA folks seed and then secure their deployments of ASYCUDA World.  For new readers, UNCTAD is the acronym for the “United Nations Conference on Trade and Development”.  ASYCUDA is the acronym for the “Automated System for Customs Data”.  This article is an excellent case study to demonstrate how an Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) expands the footprint of their technology using secretariat and organizational leverage over a country member.

Here’s the story repeated from Guyana’s Stabroek News:

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Monday held a session on its planned introduction of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA).

 GINA said that a presentation was made to wharf owners, shipping agents and customs brokers. It was held at the GRA Headquarters on Camp Street, Georgetown.

 Head of Customs and Trade Administration, Lancelot Wills, told participants that the new system will eventually lead to enhanced trade, a paperless environment, implementation of international best practices and increased efficiency.

 Head of the Customs and Trade Administration, Lancelot Wills delivering opening remarks (GINA photo)

Wills said that as the last English-speaking country in the region to adopt the system, the GRA would be able to build on the experiences of others. The new system would be tailored to local needs and shorten the time to expedite goods clearance, he added.

 GINA said the presentation was conducted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Consultant, Terrence Leonard and Information Technology Specialist, Fabian Joseph.

Stakeholders at the launch of the feasibility study (GINA photo)

Leonard, a former St. Lucian Customs Comptroller, apprised the gathering of the benefits such as better risk management particularly of high–risk cargo and better efficiency.

 For customers, E- payments could also be used and documents processed immediately, once verified.

UNCTAD IT Specialist, Fabian Joseph, during his presentation, explained how the ASYCUDA system will enable vital sections of the GRA to be linked in real time, leading to better information sharing and better efficiency for processing documents.

 Joseph, according to GINA, said that linking the systems would result in a single platform thereby enabling better border management, capacity building and better management of government finances as remitted from the GRA.

The GRA will also be linked with relevant ministries including Finance, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, and entities such as the Bank of Guyana and the Bureau of Statistics. and any other which are deemed necessary to access information from the GRA.

The feasibility study which is being funded by the UN, will gather information and feedback from the Private Sector Commission and the Information Technology and legal staff of the GRA over the next week. It will conclude on January 19 with a presentation to the GRA’s top officials on a proposal to move forward with its implementation.



It’s a good example that demonstrates how UNCTAD continues to create a barrier to market entry for the technology sector by;

1.       Using their influence under the flag of the United Nations to promote and foster a workshop/feasibility study to introduce the benefits of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) for the trading community and local customs representatives.  In doing so, it sets an impression for the local audience that a decision has already been made, but it isn’t entirely clear by who. Once this momentum has been generated, the outcome has been set.  

2.       Fostering a sole source /no bid contract arrangement with the country member.  (If an opportunity is not made visible, how can the technology sector compete?  We can’t.  If it’s not visible, we can’t compete or propose alternative solutions.)  The technology providers, other IGO orgs including the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Customs Organization (WCO), and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) should pay attention.  We all anticipate no requirements will be tendered in this instance (as they were not tendered in the previous 90 other countries).  When/where does this end?  When do the other IGOs stop supporting these efforts and endorse transparency + model law on procurement?  When is good governance suddenly not a part of capacity building?  Can someone please enlighten me?  TRANSPARENCY SCORE = FAIL


3.       Offering the system under a no cost /closed source licensing model. (leaving the impression with the client that the system is free or no maintenance is required after installation.) 


4.       Recruiting an ex-Customs Comptroller to act as your face to this community to promote the benefits of ASCYCUDA World.  All options should be presented to maximize the most return on investment.  Why is only one solution being promoted?  Is Guyana aware of the other available options that could be cheaper, better, faster to deploy?


5.       Marketing the system as a feasibility study.  No one else has been invited to do a feasibility study on their systems.  Why are requirements not being gathered, documented, shared, and openly tendered? 

Based on all of the above, UNCTAD fails miserably on transparency.

It’s pretty clear per this news item /case study that the effort is being promoted as a “feasibility study”, but the audience is influenced in a way that suggests the decision has already been made.  Has it? Here are a few key questions we all need to ask:


10 Questions

Common Perception / Answer


Was a requirements document ever created?





How does ASYCDUDA WORLD fit typical requirements for a commercial border processing system?

It doesn’t comply with many modern best practice requirements.



Will a tender be let for these requirements so Guyana can obtain the best return on investment?


Likely not. This article suggests another sole source no bid arrangement is underway. We expect no requirements will be drafted and no tender will be let. Operating under the guise of no transparency is not a way to lead by example.



Has a budget been made available?


A request will likely be made to a multi-lateral donor/funding agency. TBD if the donor thinks ASYCUDA World is the best return on investment for Guyana. (most analysis suggests it is not). Recent deployments have cost in the range of 4M and led to additional requests to fill missing functions that were marketed as being included from the beginning. A tender for 4M and the right requirements would obtain more ROI in our view. Where is the WCO? Why are they not drafting the requirements for a best practice border processing system? Countries could use this to openly tender a more suitable solution and align with international standard. ASYCUDA certainly has a standard, but the bar has been set well below what it should or could be.



Will a multi-lateral donor agency provide funding for ASYCUDA World?


We in the technology sector certainly hope not. We would prefer to see an RFP let with transparent requirements. UNCTAD can compete with the rest of us if ASYCUDA is as good as they say/market.



Will UNCITRAL model laws on procurement be utilized to ensure a transparent and fair outcome?


No (based on historical fact). That’s sad, ironic, and unfortunate, especially when UNCTAD is a UN organization.



Is a risk management (RM) component required?


Yes. All customs systems need this, and it’s promoted in a variety of international standards and baselines like WCO SAFE. ASYCUDA just doesn’t have a true or effective RM module.



Is there a requirement for an electronic single window (ESW)?


Likely yes but it’s not noted here in this article. Customs administrations should do their homework on the functions that are truly available in ASYCUDA and highlight those that are not. Many other offerings are available in the market place for ESW.



Is ASYCUDA World a feasible system for developing nations?


Debatable. If the country is migrating from paper based procedures, it’s a suitable “entry” level application for the country to start with. It provides an electronic filing means for importer declarations and some accounting features. It does not provide decent Risk Management capabilities or any Electronic Single Window capabilities. It’s expensive to deploy (4M USD) when compared with the marginal system benefits. Regardless it should not be facilitated and channeled as the only available option as it is in this case study.



Are other technology providers being invited in to do their own feasibility study?




Finally, let’s correct some of the misconceptions published in this article:


UNCTAD Statement


The Reality


“New system will eventually lead to enhanced trade, a paperless environment, implementation of international best practices and increased efficiency.”

Marginally True

ASYCUDA offers a means to receive and work with electronic transactions. It’s a suitable entry level solution for declaration processing and accounting. It uses the Single Administrative Document (SAD) which is sometimes compliant with the WCO data model (depending on the country deployment) and sometimes not. It often is deployed with an out-dated Harmonized System Tariff; and the “one decision per transaction” model unfortunately does not improve release times. Conclusion:

·        A paperless environment? Answer: Not entirely. This will include Declarations and Cargo Reports only. LPCOs are on Paper. Release Messages and delivery authorities for terminals and warehouses remain on paper.

·        Enhanced Trade? Answer: Not really. “Enhance” can mean many things. ASYCUDA does not increase trade volumes as one example. It does however “enhance” UNCTAD’s reputation.

·        Implementation of best practices? Answer: It does promote the use of electronic data and WCO data model but falls short in most other areas.

·        Increased efficiency? Answer: -Only if migrating from manual paper based procedures.


“The new system would be tailored to local needs and shorten the time to expedite goods clearance”

Marginally True

Any technology is installed and configured to tailor local needs. ASYCUDA is not the only system that does this. I would suggest the application only expedites goods clearance if the system is being implemented to replace paper and manual procedures. Release times have shown to remain fairly constant even after a deployment of ASYCDUA World.



“Benefits such as better risk management particularly of high–risk cargo and better efficiency.”


Not true. The ASYCUDA risk management / selectivity module is about as rudimentary as it gets. The system does not identify high risk cargo. A random selectivity % is set which triggers referrals for inspections. That’s not true “targeting or selectivity”. That’s a random decision with random results. Targets or flags can be set on certain data fields for targeting commodities or importers, but not much else. Most importantly, ASYCUDA locks a customs organization into risk aversion requiring one decision per transaction. That’s the opposite of risk management. That’s a gatekeeper approach endorsing “risk aversion”.



“E- payments could also be used and documents processed immediately, once verified”


Many systems offer e-payment capability and generally requires integration with the local payment gateway. It’s also intentionally vague. “documents processed immediately…. once verified” by who? The system, or the customs officer? Are documents processed when “not” verified by the customs officer? i.e. does any automation exist or is a human required to execute all decisions at the border. I think you’ll find it’s the latter. This approach also undermines the principles of risk management for border management.



“The ASYCUDA system will enable vital sections of the GRA to be linked in real time, leading to better information sharing and better efficiency for processing documents.”


Marginally True

All technology does this. End the use of paper, and adopt the use of electronic data and your organization can access information dynamically resulting in better coordination and information sharing. Is ASYCDUA the only system that does this? Of course not.


“Linking the systems would result in a single platform thereby enabling better border management, capacity building and better management of government finances”


What systems are they proposing to link? In principle this makes sense but UNCTAD has little experience integrating other systems from the Trade and OGAs, with little success. An IGO like UNCTAD is simply not suited to act as a technology firm. This can be demonstrated in the following URLs:


Read here:

“Customs Brokers Frustrated with New Goods Clearance System”


and here:

“Addressing Challenges in ASYCUDA”



 Conclusion and Recommendations:

We all have to make this situation better for the developing nations. 

1.       The technology sector has to call “foul” when it sees case studies like this and bring them to the attention of the trading and customs community.  (I’m doing this here as one example.)

2.       The WCO should prepare requirements for a best practice commercial border processing system so country members can use it to tender openly and fairly.  Where are they and why are they not engaged?

3.       The multi-lateral donors and funding agencies should scrutinize funding requests for ASYCUDA World to determine ROI, best practice, whether model law on procurement is being followed, a cost benefit and /or options analysis has been undertaken, etc... When any of these items are missing or the effort appears to not be above board, the request should be questioned or the funding should not be provided.  The donors should also press the WCO and WTO for best practice requirements for a commercial border processing system.

4.       The IGOs including WTO and WCO should not be supporting a non-transparent deployment of ASYCUDA World as seen in this example especially when model law on procurement is ignored.

This should have been fixed a long time ago. Why do I have to raise this?  Why do I have to make myself a target of UNCTAD because I choose to expose what’s broken?

Stay tuned for additional sequels to the "ASYCUDA Myth" Blog.