National Customs Enforcement Network: a look at country-specific implementationBy Georgia Revenue Service and Sri Lanka Customs
Intelligence-based risk management is a term widely used in the Customs sector and everyone agrees that today, it is the way to go to support global trade facilitation efforts and deal with resource constraints. One of the key measures to implement such a policy is to have a systematic and accurate intelligence database with enforcement data.
Developed by the WCO, the National Customs Enforcement Network (nCEN) application gives Customs administrations the ability to collect, store, analyse and disseminate law enforcement information more efficiently at the national level, in order to establish robust intelligence capabilities and enhance profiling. It consists of three independent databases:
- the principal database of national seizures and offences comprises data required for analysis, as well as means of conveyance, routes, and the possibility to view photos depicting exceptional concealment methods.
- two supplementary databases comprise information on suspect persons, means of conveyance and business entities of interest to Customs, thereby facilitating a structured investigation process.
A built-in mail system, known as the Information Communication Interface (Icomm), enables smooth and efficient information flow among nCEN users and external “connected” parties, such as the WCO. Icomm can be used to send seizure information to the WCO Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) database or to other countries using the nCEN application.
In this article, two countries, Georgia and Sri Lanka, generously take time out to share their national experience on implementing the nCEN, providing details on when they began the process, how their implementation journey has unfolded, and the benefits that have accrued since the application was deployed in their respective Customs administrations.
Back in 2016, the Georgia Revenue Service (GRS), which brings together under one umbrella the Tax and Customs Administration and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Border Control Agency, decided to implement the nCEN application. Since deploying the system three years ago, Georgia Customs is pleased with the concrete outcomes and how the nCEN has impacted positively on its staff and operations.
Thirty-four Customs officers working at various Customs points of entry (land, air, sea and rail crossing-points), as well as in Customs clearance zones and within the Container Control Units set up under the framework of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP), may enter data into the system. Once entered, the data is validated by one of four system administrators located at the GRS.
Currently, Georgia has 1,509 validated seizure cases and 209 company records in the database. The information is entered on a daily basis and is regularly consulted by risk analysts based at the GRS Headquarters, as well as by Customs officers in the field. As a result of this database analysis, new smuggling trends have been identified and shared with frontline Customs officers, such as methods related to the concealment of drugs in hand baggage or stuffed into different items.
Analytical work is greatly facilitated by the search engine and the picture gallery depicting concealment methods. The application also serves as an effective tool for training, and for the sharing of intelligence between Customs units based at Headquarters and those located at border crossing-points and inland Customs clearance offices. When consulted about the impact of the tool on their daily work, field Customs officers said that it had raised their awareness of modus operandi and threats, helped them in profiling individuals and means of transport, and enhanced their detection capabilities.
Using Icomm, non-nominal seizure records are sent to the CEN database automatically. The system also translates field content from Georgian into English automatically, except for free text fields that have to be translated by the validators.
At present, Georgia Customs does not share information via Icomm with other countries where the nCEN has been deployed, but does not discount the possibility of doing so in the future. The challenges surrounding this issue are two-fold:
- whether countries are willing to add this data to existing information exchange channels;
- whether existing agreements, such as mutual assistance agreements, are suitable for this type of information exchange, or if a new legislative framework needs to be put in place.
Training sessions are held regularly for new system users and for enforcement officers, with the goal of maintaining/expanding the pool of staff authorized to enter data, as well as increasing the quantity and quality of data captured in the system, which they input and later access. This training is ongoing within the GRS, and has tremendously enhanced the capacity of officers as well as the work of Customs across the country.
Three years after having implemented the nCEN, Georgia Customs is of the firm belief that the tool has impacted positively on its operations, and has definitely strengthened its risk management capabilities. These positive outcomes enable Georgia to fully meet the needs of all its international trade stakeholders, while bolstering Customs’ contribution to the country’s economic and social development through more effective enforcement. With such concrete outcomes, Georgia Customs is happy to share information on its implementation of the nCEN with other countries (contact details appear at the end of the article).
Sri Lanka’s experience
The need for a database to collect, store and share enforcement data, a long overdue necessity, led to Sri Lanka Customs deciding to embrace the nCEN application. The agreement to implement the application was signed in May 2017, and training for 15 Customs officers from the enforcement and compliance clusters was organized by the WCO in October 2017.
The implementation of the system was entrusted to Customs’ Central Intelligence Directorate with the support of its Information and Communication Technology Directorate. Four officers were designated as nCEN project leaders, one of which was also charged with maintaining contact with the WCO. After the first WCO training session, a second one on the usage of the nCEN was conducted to increase the user base. Many officers participated in this session, all of which came from every one of the major units in the enforcement, compliance and revenue clusters.
The application was officially launched in February 2018. To ensure that all seizure cases are reported via the nCEN, departmental orders with associated operating instructions were published, making it mandatory to input all such cases into the nCEN. Officers were also encouraged to make use of the suspect database. Once data is entered, it is checked by nCEN case validators attached to the Central Intelligence Directorate. They control the quality of data fed into the system and validate cases, attend to user issues and manage the user database (creation of new users, deactivation of users, password resets, etc.), and organize and conduct training sessions.
Currently, the nCEN application has 157 trained users in Sri Lanka Customs and the seizure database includes more than 1,500 cases since the system was implemented, which is indicative of the usefulness of the application in every sense of the word. Non-nominal elements of seizure cases are shared with the WCO through Icomm.
Implementation of the nCEN addressed the lack of an enforcement database, which has long been a requisite of Sri Lanka Customs, given the fact that the capacity to build risk profiles and support decision-making at the strategic, tactical and operational level is linked to the availability of quality enforcement data and an abundance of it. The simplicity and user friendliness of the application’s data download functionality makes it possible for analysts to perform their job with ease.
The nCEN has also been supportive in the recently re-engineered risk management process of the Administration, enabling risk profiles to be created and updated, so that legitimate traders are able to benefit from faster Customs clearance. Now, Sri Lanka Customs will be focusing on how to develop its data analysis capacities, which is an area that requires more progress, as officers need to gain greater knowledge on how to view and better mine the information that has been gathered.
Data exchange is another area with promising prospects. Not only does the nCEN enable easier production of reports, it also facilitates information-exchange with relevant national and even foreign authorities via Icomm. Sri Lanka Customs is considering the possibility of sharing information with other government agencies, and as part of mutual administrative or legal assistance agreements, with other Customs administrations. However, there is currently no legal basis for Customs to share information directly with other countries, through the nCEN.
With the help of the WCO, Sri Lanka Customs managed to develop its national enforcement database in a time span of 10 months. At the first workshop gathering nCEN users of the Asia/Pacific region held in Seoul, South Korea, in October 2018, Sri Lanka was elected as the 2019 Regional nCEN Programme Leader. As such, it is tasked with promoting the tool in the region and organizing various workshops for nCEN user countries. It goes without saying that Sri Lanka also stands ready to share information on its nCEN implementation experience with countries outside the region who are interested in knowing more about the tool, and what its implementation required (contact details appear below).