Did the GRA have a back-up system for their computer operations?

Dear Editor, Mr Peter Fraser of the GRA describes that entity as having suffered a “brief setback during the last quarter of 2008” (‘TRIPS continues to serve the GRA,’ SN 11.2.09). Reading between the lines, one assumes that Mr Fraser is referring to the incident where in the height of the Christmas commerce season, the GRA experienced a crash of their computer system and subsequently took over one week to get it back working. What Mr Fraser trivialises as a “brief setback” may have been described as a long nightmare by any importer whose goods languished on the wharf during the height of the peak shopping season as a result of this.

There is more this affair than meets the eye. Mr Fraser’s assertion that “through the back-up system, the GRA was able to retrieve all information with technical help from a reputable company in Barbados” is a contradiction in terms. If the GRA indeed had “a back-up system,” then why should they have needed technical help from anywhere, much less Barbados? All computers are subject to crashing. It is axiomatic to computer operations that your hardware can be replaced but your data is irreplaceable, therefore, elementary practice is to back up that data. In the worst case, if your server crashes or is burnt/broken/flooded out beyond repair, you can buy a new one, load up your data and continue from your last recorded transaction. To be clear here, you buy some tapes, you put them into the machine every night and you take them out the next morning and store them somewhere safe. This is made out to be high science by Mr Fraser and given the name of “technical back-up measures” requiring help from Barbados.

With respect to the back-up system, Mr Fraser says, “The Commissioner-General has spared no efforts in ensuring that weaknesses found in the system be remedied immediately to avert a recurrence of a similar incident.” Bearing in mind the high science involved, this statement does not put his boss in a good light because it implies that the Commissioner-General has been presiding over systems devoid of elementary safeguards. Were that the case, the law of averages dictates that the Commissioner-General would have been burned by an incident such as this long ago.

Mr Fraser should therefore tell the nation whether or not there were perfectly good systems in place to perform this elementary procedure. Was the inability to recover from the crash in a timely manner a result of a breakdown in systems that were previously in place? Was this breakdown in basic systems due to negligence exacerbated by organisational confusion as roles were chopped and changed in the latter part of 2008? Is it or is it not the case that the GRA staff had stopped backing up the system approximately three months before the crash?

Yours faithfully,
Murtland Willison

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