Today we launch the next chapter in our series on ASYCUDA. We hope you enjoy. If you missed parts 1 and 2, they can be accessed here:
In the last chapter, we discussed the findings of the UN Audits on ASYCUDA and UNCTAD in 2008 and 2012. In this chapter, we discuss the plans UNCTAD had for ASYCUDA and why they never actually emerged.
As requested by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in 2008, UNCTAD/ASYCUDA was asked to develop a strategy in regards to the development and roll-out of the next generation of ASYCUDA World branded as “ASYCUDA Millennium”. This path was intended to help repair the findings of collusion, and begin to open the market to other providers beyond Strategy Object. Instead, UNCTAD/ASYCUDA continued the original monopolistic plan which continued to use SOCLASS in the design. At this point we must ask:
Where is ASYCUDA Millennium? Has the system been developed or implemented? Can some countries report on its features and benefits?
Following the OIOS audit in 2008 (and another in 2012) and the subsequent recommendations – which included recommending that SOCLASS be replaced with an open source tender (to repair the findings of collusion), UNCTAD representatives ignored and continue to ignore this recommendation. No reasoning has ever been made clear.
It’s not openly or transparently clear as to who owns or is behind Strategy Object but you can contact them by fax or a sales email provided on their website. The licensing scheme provides an unfair advantage to Strategy Object which appears to have been established by some ASYCUDA representatives. So how is a member state prompted to buy SOCLASS licenses? Here is an example:
The following UNDP procurement notice (see page 16) identifies a requirement for SOCLASS with directions for vendors to contact SOCLASS at http://www.strategyobject.com/contact.html and indicate their requirements such as application, installation guide and user licenses. It’s an example of how an ASYCUDA Project locks in SOCLASS using a sole source arrangement and forces the member state to contact Strategy Object in Sofia, Bulgaria to buy it. From afar, this appears to circumvent an open tendering process, -is in total infringement of UN financial rules and regulations, and also violates the UNCITRAL model law on procurement. In addition, it blocks other potential providers and creates a barrier to market entry.
From the experience of many, UNCTAD’s ASYCUDA Group has a history of being a paranoid, closed, and non-transparent organization, -but this culture and behavior is catching up with them. As a community of IGOs, technology firms, Customs administrations, and member states, should we not call upon the new Deputy Secretary General, Isabelle Durant to finally acknowledge the dysfunction and hidden agendas? The ASYCUDA group at UNCTAD has been (and continues to be) an island that was allowed to bypass the official channels for many years. These recent audits from OIOS show that at minimum, some checks and balances need to be put in place.
If you are an Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) supporting rollouts of ASYCUDA directly or indirectly, then you are fostering an egregious licensing regime that benefits a select few (those with shares in Strategy Object) at the expense of your members.
If you are a multilateral donor agency funding the deployment of ASYCUDA for a member state, then you are supporting this egregious licensing regime.
If you are an UNCTAD member state who uses ASYCUDA World, then your funds most likely went in part to an external recipient outside of the UN accounting purview.
If you weren’t aware, is this an excuse? If you are aware, why did you agree to support? Either answer is not a good one.
In developed countries, this activity would be considered illegal and prohibited.
Many questions persist. Why did UNCTAD cancel or delay its planned rollout of ASYCUDA Millennium? Why are countries being marketed a rudimentary system (ASYCUDA World) that is at the end of it’s natural life expectancy?
- Would it eliminate the ability for those with shares in Strategy Object to collect licensing royalties outside of UN contract policies and rules?
- If so, is there any incentive for UNCTAD to proceed with the rollout of ASYCUDA millennium? Or are the Strategy Object shareholders incentivized to stretch out the use of ASYCUDA World beyond it’s natural lifetime?
Please stay tuned for Part 4 of the ASYCUDA Myth to be posted in the coming days.