EDITORIAL: Customs digitisation

Once a system of transparent record-keeping is introduced which is hard to manipulate, many other benefits will accrue, improving the services

Our government offices have been gradually opting for new technologies in place of the traditional ones, most of which are antiquated, very labour consuming, with too much time taken to process work, with inefficient ways of storing data and documents and difficulty in retrieval. This is an old habit of most of the members of our bureaucracy of deliberately delaying service delivery to tire out the service-seekers so that they may be compelled to pay them under the table to have their work done. In order to tap the benefits of modernization of work processes and to reduce the opportunity of delaying tactics that labourious manual work processes offer to the dishonest members of the bureaucracy, adoption of newer and more efficient technologies in government offices is of great importance. And this is already happening. In this modernization process, the Department of Customs (DoC) has launched a pilot programme of a fully web-based system for data processing and management.

The new system has been introduced in the Mechi Customs Office. The agents of the office will now be able to process customs declaration forms, submit transit papers, provide various details, for example, on transport document numbers, consignors and consignees of goods, and packages. The operation of this system is expected to shorten the time of customs clearance, and it will be gradually implemented in other customs offices as well. At the same time, the department can monitor the customs duty assessment of the goods online. This system has been called ASYCUDAWorld, a web-based software used to link various government and private agencies dealing with customs offices. Such increasing digitization of the customs offices will improve customs administration, which has always been an objective of the government.

Customs offices are among the government offices which deserve greater priority for adopting modern technology because huge leakages of government revenue take place through the customs offices. There are unscrupulous business people too, in large numbers, who seek to either beat customs officials or work in collusion with them to evade customs duty or pay only a small fraction of what they would have to pay with correct customs assessments. Increasing adoption of modern technology will certainly reduce the scope of cheating, as has been seen in so many other instances, as it makes dishonest maneuvering increasingly difficult. On the same day as the above system was launched, Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel also launched two other sub-systems – revenue exemption module and deposit management module. The first will keep a database of the beneficiaries of revenue exemption and the second, introduced at the Tribhuvan International Airport Customs Office, will maintain a digital database of the goods brought in by passengers without making customs declaration. This will help process the goods faster and perhaps reduce the scope of underhand transactions compared with the existing manual system. Once a system of transparent record-keeping is introduced which is hard to manipulate, many other benefits will accrue, improving the services, increasing accountability and raising government revenue.

Launch campaign

Abject poverty, age-old tradition, superstition and unavailability of health facilities nearby the villages in the remote district of Humla have forced pregnant women to give birth in cow-sheds. The government has given incentive with a package of Rs. 1,500 along with a package of warm clothes to new-born babies and lactating mother for giving birth at the health centres.

But things have not improved despite such incentives. A majority of the pregnant women are forced to give birth inside the cow-sheds instead of the health centres. Local activists said most of the locals do not want to discontinue with the age-old tradition of giving birth in the cow-sheds fearing that deities would be displeased if they go to the health posts. The pregnant women are not allowed to visit the health facilities even if they complain of common illnesses associated with pregnancy. It is the health workers, political cadres and social activists who should launch a massive campaign to encourage them to give birth at health facilities.