The ASYCUDA Myth Part 4:  Time to Open Source

Today’s blog concludes our recent series on ASYCUDA.  If interested in the earlier posts, here they are again for reference:

The ASYCUDA Myth Part 1

 The ASYCUDA Myth Part 2

 The ASYCUDA Myth Part 3

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has never intended to open source ASYCUDA (as the WCO recently did in June 2017 with their Cargo Targeting System).  It seems clear that Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) should not be in the business of building and selling rudimentary software solutions, and donors should not be funding the development or deployment especially when there is an appearance of a kickback scheme for a select few.  If UNCTAD does not intend to open source license ASYCUDA World, then why does it continue an intellectual property (IP) transfer to Webb Fontaine?  According to this link, they are currently in the process of trademarking something called “ASYCUDA Suite”.

This news report suggests Webb Fontaine licences/installs/upgrades ASYCUDA World.  Has the IP actually been formally transferred?

If the Deputy Secretary General wants to ensure a fair, open, and transparent playing field exists, then it is time to fully open source the code and licensing for ASYCUDA World.  Otherwise the relationships between UNCTAD and Webb Fontaine have initiated an unfair advantage.  This is called a “barrier to market entry” for the rest of us. 

UNCTAD should follow suit with the recent decision by the WCO to open source their technology.  Please refer to page 6 of the World Customs Organization (WCO) Regional Report on the future of ASYCUDA.  Member states have expressed the need to move to an open source model by stating:

“ASYCUDA World, contains a proprietary middleware named 'SOCLASS'. Participants almost unanimously expressed the wish to evolve ASYCUDA, as far as possible, towards a fully open source system. “

The members continue:

“The principles of good governance in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) require users of a system to specify their functional requirements in the form of specifications, that these specifications be validated by a decision-making body, and that computer developments take place on the basis of such validated specifications. Participants suggested that these principles consistently be applied for new developments in ASYCUDA.”

Unfortunately for 90 members, these principles were never really applied.  Unless this changes drastically and soon, many have suggested that the members drop the use of this rudimentary entry level system and seek funding from donors for more suitable platforms.  This can be easily demonstrated through a market survey and a cost benefit analysis.  UNCTAD certainly does not want that to happen as recently shown here in my recent blog, “The ASYCUDA Myth: Part 1”.  Their model traps member states into a sole source arrangement under the guise of a feasibility study where alternative solutions are negated.  It’s been an aggressive posture for many years as we all know.  Let’s band together and declare that enough is enough.  We should also consider that the institutional knowledge and memory of ASYCUDA is waning and will disappear soon. 

  • If so, are we near a tipping point where this knowledge base and IP will migrate fully to Webb Fontaine? 
  • Are both UNCTAD and Webb Fontaine using the same defacto libraries and codes for ASYCUDA World? 
  • Were those libraries and codes developed and paid for by UNCTAD through contracts with member states, and are they now being resold by Strategy Object to/through Webb Fontaine?

Accusations of conflict or collusion aside, UNCTAD has still managed to create an extractive economic institution that rewards a select few at the expense of 90 member states.  Isn’t this wrong? 

Ms. Durant and Mr. Kituyi, it’s time to clean the slate.  Open source the license and code, and make it fair for all member states, and all technology firms. It’s time to establish a common, open, and fair playing ground for all.

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