By Eugene Nweke-RFF, Mpta, Mnis,Fffa
Web Fontaine as an old Service Provider appears to be basking under the euphoria of industry monopoly, having enjoyed over 8 years of non competitive operations as structured by the Ministry of Finance, hence, being the only Service Provider with speciality in Information Technology development, stakeholders are yet to come to appreciable terms with the level of self developed innovations injected into the system so far.
Alternatively, can Web Fontaine proudly point to what it considers to be its records and achievement over the years and the cost thereof for public assessment or else it is easier to conclude that it is just enjoying enormous monopoly in an uncompetitive Customs IT-Port environment.
In the Nigeria Customs parlance, Web Fontaine is reputed for Asycuda development, but a 1997 UNCTAD News bulletin reported that Asycuda is a United Nation Intellectual Property product which was alleged to have been doctored by some IT consultancy firms of which legal suits are already instituted to this effect, though, still pending in the court.
The Big question here is for Web Fontaine to clarify whether it is involved in an Intellectual property disputes with the United Nation or not?
On a point of note, it is reasonable to note that Web Fontaine being a sole Service Provider assigned with the duty to evaluate, develop, supply and install an efficient and effective information technology mechanism or soft wares that will fast tract or speed up a sustainable and fast customs cargo clearance regime, the following are among notable soft wares supplied by Web Fontaine:
1). the portal (soft ware) for the application of Asyuda 1.3 site.
2). the portal (soft ware) for the application of Asycuda 1.7 site.
3). the portal (soft ware) for the application of Asycuda 3.0 site.
4). the portal (soft ware) to complement Asycuda 3.0 site the application-DTI.
5). The Integration (online hooking) of Designated Banks into the Customs Server.
6). the e-form application portal.
7). The Central Server/alerting system.
8). The NICIS network -portal etc.
It is important to underscore the fact that, despite the above list (and some other) portals/ soft wares services developed so far, no reasonable statistics has been provided for public consumption as regards to the number of knowledge or skill transferred or capacity built within the past 8 years.
But traces of statistics abound in relation to cost of contract, acquisitions, requisitions, purchase, supply and payments. Also, in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) can Web Fontaine sincerely score itself high?
From an informed point of view, it is also instructive to note that, in its integration/ automation efforts over the years it is obvious that, Web Fontaine having enjoyed too long and enough patronages (due to no options or alternatives) by the contracting Ministry, Destination Inspection Agents (co-service providers), the Nigeria Customs, the Designated Banks, Custom agents, etc. the Web Fontaine can be said to weigh so much domination leading to industry monopoly.
On this premise therefore, when the Nigeria Customs Service decided to develop an independent home grown /driven portal in preparation to its taking over the Destination Inspection Scheme from the Service Providers, the management after series of meetings opted for, engaged and collaborated (through its ICT- Center) with a private consulting firm and not Web Fontaine.
The Nigeria Customs ICT-Center in collaboration with the private consultant, firstly considered the peculiarities on ground, reviewed, re-evaluate, highlighted and addressed all operational lapses and shortfalls inherent and the associated delays with the old portal ( soft wares), then devised and developed a more sophisticated and robust platform which gave birth to a seamless and corresponding portals which is today known as : the Nigeria Single Window (NSW), the Nigeria Trade Hub (NTH) and PAAR applications regime.
The fear here is that, hence, on the account of avoiding economic wastage, some of these laudable developed portals are compelled to function or integrated on the existing Equipments/ portals.
Presently, it thus appear that the process of edging out to re-possess the newly nurtured initiative and concept via heightened subtly frustrating arrangements and possibly a subsequent hijack, hence, the persistent portal/server breakdown and the breakdown of the PAAR transmission tool being witnessed these days speak volumes of monopoly unlimited.
This brings to mind of my thought probing interaction with a friend (trained Asycuda Project Manager of a command), sometime in June, 2013. My good friend jokingly ( though with bewilderment) alleged that, before the official launch of the Nigeria Trade Hub, he skipped through ( by accessing and browsing) the Web Fontaine’s Portal and noticed an attempted efforts to cloning the Nigeria Trade Hub features in their portal.
It is very logical to posit that, with the level of patronage enjoyed and the further connivance with certain stakeholders by the Web Fontaine, it seems to have created in a subtly manner a stumbling block to the smooth take of the PAAR application.
Today, following the teething problem that confronted the PAAR application from inception, the sponsored news making round the wave in the industry is that, Web- FONTANE is now championing the administration of the new improved PAAR application.
But the question on the lips of customs agents has been, should it be that the incessant server breakdown orchestrated by Web Fontaine was to subtly scuttle the process and maximize time plotting for and possible cloning PAAR in view of the above background? Could this be possible, giving the excessive monopoly, contacts and powers at its disposal?
It is equally, logically to posit that, the present hardship faced by customs agents/shippers due to the difficulties, challenges and associated delays in PAAR processing can be traced to larger extent to the monopoly and manipulation by the Web Fontaine, hence, its quest for domination and stay put.