ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Customs’ latest automation system – Web-Based One Customs (WeBOC) – on which the economic security of the country depends, is on the verge of collapse, sources in the Finance Ministry told Daily Times. Sources said that WeBOC had recently faced many technical issues, including repeated shutdowns, which resulted in stoppage of all import, export and transit activities. This system is operated by the Director General of Reforms and Automation of the Customs Department, and around 90 percent of the cross-border trade is processed through this semi-automated system. Serious structural infirmities in this system have put the credibility of system on the line. Documents available with Daily Times indicate that Abdul Rashid Shaikh had repeatedly informed the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) about the impending shutdown of the system, but to no avail. The FBR’s Information Technology Wing has not initiated any action on such requests. In one such letter, dated May 3, 2016, Abdul Rashid Shaikh requested FBR Member Dr Muhammad Iqbal that a disaster recovery system may be established for WeBOC on a priority basis. In another letter addressed to Dr Muhammad Iqbal, dated 30-06-2016, he lamented that his previous requests had fallen on deaf ears and no action was taken. He further said that shutdown of this indigenously developed WeBOC system would result in choking of the seaports and border customs crossings, due to which the Pakistan Customs would not be able to handle arrival and departure of ships as well as passenger and cargo aircrafts. He also warned that supply chain would be seriously disrupted and exports would come to a halt. He quoted examples of various shutdowns of the system and the resultant loss to the department’s revenue. He wrote that it was imperative that a disaster recovery system be established, in case the database of the computer system crashed due to some manmade or natural disaster. He mentioned that it would not be out of place to state that frequency of breakdowns of WeBOC had increased in the recent past, and experiences of a disaster-like situation had already alarmed the business community. He cited examples of big organisations that always relied on backups and disaster recovery sites for the continuation of business activity. He requested the FBR to issue directives for a robust disaster recovery site over a year ago, but no action had so far been taken by the high-ups. Sources within the FBR revealed that the risk of closure of WeBOC due to hacking was very high, as many government departments had their websites defaced by hackers in the recent past. They referred to the recent interference of Russian hackers with American voting system, which is under investigation in the United States. When contacted, IT experts opined that reliance of trade on online customs handling interfaces had increased, and any hacking or crash of the system would paralyse the country’s overall cross-border trade. They also warned that many systems of the State Bank of Pakistan and the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan would also collapse, as they relied heavily on the WeBOC system of the Pakistan Customs. “It will be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportion,” warned a business leader who is a regular user of the automation system. Another businessman pointed at the corruption and incompetence of the FBR, and asserted that revenue board’s officers were least bothered about the problems of the business community. He also said that the WeBOC system’s link was always down during peak hours, which “increases the cost of doing business”. He called upon the government to establish a commission to probe mismanagement by the tax machinery of the country. Meanwhile, senior FBR officials claimed that a feasibility study had already been conducted, but development of the system to ensure business continuity would take time.