| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
An Action Plan was prepared to define the tasks/actions required to implement the web based application of CoOs initiative at MRA Customs, allocate roles and responsibilities for different tasks, define the timeframes for each task and identify the resource requirements for implementing the project. The key elements of the action plan are described below.
A. KEY DEVELOPMENTS
Two key phases of the project are as follows:
1. Application for SADC and IOC CoOs to be electronic in the same way as EUR1. The purpose was to harmonize the electronic submission and processing of all applications and to eliminate the need for exporters to purchase blanks certificates. This came into effect on the 1st April 2010.
2. Application for EUR1, SADC and IOC to be made on the web: To enable full paperless submission of applications with scanned copies of the original supporting documents as attachments. This was fully implemented on 1st January 2012. Critical data of the approved certificate of origin are posted on an approved website providing transparency and authenticity of the certificate.
B. TIME SCHEDULE AND CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
The time schedule and chronology of events for the implementation of the initiative from the time of project conception to full implementation are as follows:
a. Conceptualisation and dissemination of information about the project to relevant parties:
• 04/02/2008: Customs informed MOFED and notified SADC Secretariat for the implementation of web based application of CoOs through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
b. Setting up of the legislative framework:
• 07/07/2008: Draft proposed legislations prepared by MRA Customs and submitted to MOFED
• 24/12/2009: MOFED approved the proposal and regulations were made accordingly
• 01/04/2010: Entry into force of the legislations
c. System development:
• February 2008 - April 2008: Preparation of user requirement by MRA and submission to MNS
• May 2009 - June 2011: Development of Application by MNS
• 01/04/2010: Introduction of e-application for SADC and IOC CoOs
d. Testing, training and implementation for web based application of CoOs:
• June 2011 - August 2011: Procurement of blank CoOs with security features
• July 2011 - September 2011: User Acceptance Testing at Customs
• October 2011: Hardware and office set up, awareness campaigns, training to Customs staff and traders
• November 2011- December 2011: Pilot test, parallel run and evaluation of the system
• 01 January 2012: Full implementation of web based application of CoOs
C. ASSIGNMENT OF RESPONSIBILITIES
• Build up of user requirements: MRA Customs IT Team
• Design and development of system and Upgrading of Customs Tradenet system: MNS
• Draft legislation for the validation of web based application of CoO with supporting documents: MRA Customs Trade Facilitation and Customs Cooperation (TFCC) Section
• Monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the initiative: MRA Customs IT/Origin Unit and the MNS.
• Awareness Campaigns to the trading community: TFCC/Origin Unit/IT
• Training of staff and declarants: MRA Customs IT /Origin Unit
D. RESOURCES REQUIRED
• Financial resources: MOFED approved a budget of US $17,000 for the design and development of the system by MNS and for the procurement of hardware.
• Technical resources: MRA Customs and MNS were responsible for defining the user requirements in compliance with the related trade protocols. The MNS was responsible for system design, development and maintenance.
• Human resources:
o Internal: MRA Customs officers from IT, Origin Unit and TFCC
o External: staff of the MNS
• Equipment: New computers with dedicated printers for the receipt and processing of applications and printing of CoOs were required. The printers had to be configured by MNS and tested by IT & Origin Unit to match certificate requirements according to the specific trade protocols.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
MRA values its stakeholders, pays due attention to their requirements and takes into consideration their complaints and suggestions. The department also works in close collaboration and after consultation with all the stakeholders with a view to improving the delivery of service and facilitating trade. Implementation of web based application of CoO has necessitated the full involvement of all our stakeholders and in particular the ones mentioned below.
• Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED): responsible for streamlining and aligning the relevant legislation to accommodate the web based submission of applications and processing of same at Customs.
• Trading community: continuous communication and consultation were held with the trading community and this helped achieve buy-in to the project and their full support to the Customs initiative.
• Mauritius Export Association (MEXA) and Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI): those two stakeholders representing exporters and the private sector respectively provided valuable input relating to the initiative and the cost and benefits involved. Their support was more concerned with enhancing the reputation and integrity of preferential certificate of origin issued by Mauritius in order to promote our exports.
• Mauritius Network Services Ltd (MNS): involved in the design and development of the new module for web based application of CoO and upgrading our Tradenet system, based on the user requirements from Customs. The choice of MNS as the service provider was based on the fact that the company had proven expertise in designing the CMS for Mauritius based on the Singapore Tradenet system. It is responsible for the maintenance of the system, troubleshooting and performing any enhancements as required by Customs. The MNS has also ensured seamless communication between the applicants and Customs electronically.
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Financial, technical and human resources had to be mobilised for the implementation of web based application for CoO. The MOFED, as the parent ministry of MRA, was fully supportive of the new project since it would contribute to the elimination of a non-tariff barrier, expedite clearance of goods, facilitate export and provide an efficient and effective service to economic operators. Therefore, funding of the project was virtually guaranteed. With respect to technical expertise for development of the project, human resources were readily available which resulted in substantial cost savings.
A. Financial Resources
MOFED has been the main source of funding for the project. A total investment of USD $17,000 was allocated for the design and development by MNS and for the procurement of necessary hardware. The parent ministry also catered for an annual budget for the procurement of pre-printed blank certificates embedded with security features like watermark and MRA logo visible only under ultra violet light. The cost of maintenance for the system was included in a single software maintenance agreement with the MNS, which is payable on a yearly basis.
B. Technical resources
Technical assistance was provided by the IT team of MRA Customs jointly with the MNS for defining user requirements in compliance with the related trade protocols. The MNS was allocated the task of system design, development and maintenance of the system. As such, MNS was responsible for hosting and maintenance of the ICT infrastructure and back-up.
Customs staff especially those from the Origin Unit was fully involved in the system development and the User Acceptance Test (UAT) of the system. Their technical knowledge of rules of origin and the different protocols were taken into consideration for the design and validations to be carried out in the electronic platform.
Expertise of the Government Printer was also required for the security features embedded in the CoO. Some of these include the printing of watermarks and ultra violet visibility restriction over the logo of MRA Customs.
C. Human resources
Human resource considerations were given high priority to ensure the smooth implementation and running of the new system. The questions of having the right staff in the right quantity were addressed to fulfil the job requirements for the reception, processing and approval of certificates of origin electronically. Training was provided to customs officers working at the Origin Unit as well as stakeholders dealing with CoOs to cope with the new procedures and system. Training was carried out at the IT Training Room of MRA Training Academy by the IT people involved in the implementation of the project in November 2011. The cost involved was insignificant but the benefits of the training were quite substantial.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The initiative launched by MRA was successful from all perspectives and five concrete outputs are described below:
1. Increase in output by 4 times
The new system has improved output at MRA Customs by four folds. Prior to the implementation of web based application for CoO, Customs officers at the Origin Unit could process a maximum of 50 applications daily as there were a lot of paper works, the communication process between Customs and declarants was not smooth and the procedure was cumbersome. The new system has expedited the procedures for receiving and processing applications, making and responding to queries and issuing approved CoOs.
2. Zero complaints from stakeholders;
Not a single complaint has been recorded at MRA Customs from stakeholders, local as well as international, following implementation of the new system. This substantiates that the system has met the expectations of the trading community. The level of physical contacts between Customs officers processing CoOs and declarants seeking authorization thereof has been reduced. There is also the automatic selection by the system for approvers for the application. Therefore, the initiative enhances the integrity of the processing system.
3. 100% improvement in dwell time
The new system has eliminated the time spent by declarants for the following:
• queuing up at the Customs Reception Desk (30 minutes)
• face-vet of the application form and supportive documents (30 minutes)
• waiting time for processing of application and printing of CoO (1 hour)
The applicant saves on average 4 hours daily and the saved time can therefore be applied for more productive tasks.
4. Reduction in queries by 80%
The number of queries from international authorities/ importers has been reduced by almost 80%. The web based application of CoOs ensured improved control on the administration of trade protocols with respect to issuance of certificates of origin. Compliance from the trading community has undergone a significant improvement due to automation and system validation checks.
5. 24/7 receipt of application and viewing of CoOs
The new system has increased productivity of the private sector by enabling traders make applications for CoOs at any time and on any day of the week. Similarly, an importer or authority in a foreign country wishing to verify the authenticity of the CoO issued by MRA Customs can do so any time and from anyplace around the globe provided internet connection is available.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the strategy was carried by the IT team responsible for implementation of the initiative with the assistance of customs officers from the Origin Unit and the MNS. Constant feedback was shared with the two main stakeholders, the MCCI and MEXA, who have a key interest in the initiative. A Hotline Service and Suggestion Boxes were also put in place to allow traders express their concerns and report any failures of the system.
Reporting tools were in-built into the system to allow greater access to reliable and accurate information. Audits trails for applications are available as an inbuilt feature of the system. New validation measures are embedded in the system such as the linkage of an application with its related export declaration. Provision has been made to introduce new Customs Procedure Codes (CPC), which is a system code designed to identify the type and description of transactions (import/export/transit) according to the relevant protocol. These CPC’s enable Customs to get more accurate and reliable statistics on transactions related to exports under preferential agreements.
A specific system segment has been designed for the declaration and attachment of electronic documents related to the justification of the originating status. This allows effective monitoring of raw materials, as this information is required for the effective determination of preferential originating status. A database of manufacturers’/exporters’ profiles built from preliminary registration with Customs allows pre and post control audits to be carried out to ensure compliance with the requirements of the trade protocols.
Stock management in the manual system was not effective as the sale of pre-numbered blank forms by MCCI was made to different buyers, without proper account of the number of forms used by the trading community. With the implementation of web based application of CoOs, Certificate Identification Numbers are automatically generated for each Trade Protocol by the system upon approval by MRA Customs and the latter is the only custodian of the blank forms printed by the Govt. Printing. MRA Customs can thus view the number of Certificates issued under a particular trade agreement over a specific period and for any individual exporter/manufacturer. Critical data elements of approved certificates are posted on MRA Customs web site and are accessible to Customs and importers for crosschecking the validity and genuineness of certificates.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main obstacles in the implementation of web based application of CoOs at MRA Customs together with the strategies used to address those obstacles are listed below:
1. Resistance from some of our trading partners (freight forwarding agents, customs agents): This stemmed from fear of the unknown and that the new system might jeopardize their interests. To overcome those fears, Customs organized several consultative sessions to build a strong partnership and devise an effective communication process for building trust among all stakeholders. That was reinforced by awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits of the new system in terms of reduced cost of transaction and dwell time.
2. Lack of appropriate benchmarks: Being the pioneer in African region, the initiative was challenging since lack of appropriate benchmark meant that we did not have a fall back solution should the proposed system fail or encounter any serious setbacks. However, strict compliance to the different trade protocols served as guidelines for the software requirement and development. Moreover, the Sub-Committee on Customs Cooperation (SCCC) which is the Customs organ, under the SADC FTA, strongly supported the initiative.
3. Fear of loss of jobs for customs agents: Customs agents of textile manufacturing sector demonstrated scepticism on impact of the initiative as the anticipated reduction in their interaction with Customs would make them redundant. However, during the consultation process with the trading community that issue was addressed and customs agents were reassured that their role continues to be important which allayed the fear for any redundancy.
4. Coping with automation at MRA Customs: The new system required customs officers to shift from paper-based operations to electronic processing. To allow customs officers to cope with the new system properly, the requisite IT skills and training was provided to them.