Samson Asaki, Executive Secretary, Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana
Samson Asaki, Executive Secretary, Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana

…as agents remain stranded over consistent systems shut down

…No Single Cargo Cleared so far

The paperless port system, aimed at making business transactions more effective and less cumbersome has been rolled out. The ultimate aim is to maximize more revenue for the state and reduce traffic at the ports, but BusinessWeek has gathered that the new system took off on a very wrong note. ABUBAKARI SEIDU AJARFOR has been founding out more.

There is an outcry among thousands of clearing agents and freight forwarders at the port who are unable to use the new computerized system. They are struggling to process their documents ever since the paperless port system began operations on September 1. These stranded intermediaries have been experiencing teething challenges in the new regimes as the system continues to malfunction due to some technical itches.

The situation has brought about negative sentiments among the agents who are already badmouthing the new computerized system as a result of the revenues they continue to lose daily to rent and demurrage charges.

In an interview with BusinessWeek, the Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana, Samson Asaki said the current situation has compelled his members to make certain bitter statements against the government.

His comments come on the heels of recent reports that the new regime has virtually brought activities at the ports to a standstill.

According to him all the agents and importers are stranded while others continue to share their frustrations over the paperless system contrary to earlier reports that cargos would be cleared within 4hours effortlessly.

Mr. Asaki, who was reported to have endorsed the new system a few months ago has suddenly shifted his position on this new development indicating that “he has his doubt” considering the fact that no single cargo has since been cleared through the paperless system.

According to him, the Custom Central Bureau Centre otherwise known as PAARS being managed by West Blue Consulting and Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has been experiencing frequent shut downs due to some technical challenges yet to be fixed.

He said the situation which is defeating the purpose of the entire process may lead to serious crises if immediate steps are not taken to restore the system to normalcy to allow businesses to operate freely and successfully.

“We are not against the paperless system but we are against the entire process that led to the creation of this new system. I said that there was the need for the country to start this paperless programme by first piloting to make it more robust before rolling it out,” he intimated.

Mr. Asaki explained that certain proposals were made to government to organize a trial test on non-perishable cargos such as car spare parts, mobile phone, cars, televisions, laptops and other items prior to the commencement of the paperless system.

According to him, this was to ensure that some of these seeming challenges were identified and properly addressed before rolling it out entirely to avoid any chaos.

He said in as much as government aimed to reduce the turn-around time and resolve the revenue leakages, it is rather losing revenue due to the frequent shutdown as no single person is able to complete one transaction.

He was unclear how management seeks to tackle these eminent challenges on time indicating that the network may freeze when pressure mounts on it again.

Some of the agents at the enclave also raised further concerns about the entire process which they described as too technical and unfriendly for them more so as was rushed through without any proper engagement and public education.

According to them, custom officers who used to be in the Long Room to work on the backlog using the old manual system had vacated their seats.

The game changer

Government earlier announced that the goal of the paperless systems was to have a robust risk engine which will grant customs clearance in a maximum of four hours instead of the current system of days and weeks. Government indicated that Ghana’s port operations have not lived up to international standards and that measures have been lined up to remove customs barriers within the paperless port. Agencies and stakeholders presented paperless process flows which were merged to enable compliant importers to sit in the comfort of their offices or homes and get customs clearance.

Wrong impressions

Contrary to on-field reports, information on the Ghana Ports portal is suggesting that the implementation of the paperless directive has been successful but has failed to situate it in the reality contest as to whether the new system is yielding any positive results. “We received two requests from service from the Ghana Integrated Cargo Clearance System (GICCS) platform – one was a reefer container and the other was a dry container. When the requests were received, we were able to generate invoices and sent them back to the GICCS platform for the agents to have access,” the GHPHA’s Corporate Planning and Monitoring Manager, Ms. Josephine Gyima-Akwafo, said.

Highlights of the paperless system

BusinessWeek has taken a further step to bring the disgruntled agents and freight forwarders highlights on the paperless regime to ease the process and, reduce the uncertainties and anxieties at the ports.

His Excellency the Vice President, Dr. Mahammud Bawumia announced at the end of the Port Efficiency Conference on May 17 that Ghana will move to a paperless clearance system at the ports beginning September 1.

This system seeks to streamline clearance operations at the ports and improve efficiency.

It is also aimed at rewarding compliant importers with customs clearance in less than four hours from the comfort of their homes or offices. Compliant importers are importers who declare the correct goods classification, quantities and values for goods imported and do not try to cheat the State. The transaction must also not contain prohibited goods and not present a risk to Ghana by way of health, safety and security.

Importers and clearing agents are required to make a statement of truth about their imports to Customs. “We have introduced a page which requires importers to confirm that the information they have provided to Customs is the truth. Customs has been equipped with tools to verify this information automatically.

New system for compliant importers

Compliant importers will get an online customs clearance in less than four hours via a text message.

The next step is to pay their duties on GCMS or Ghana’s trading hub with a visa card, Gh link card, mobile money, bank transfers or walk into a bank branch to pay their duties and charges.

Goods Marked for Scanning

Goods to be scanned will go through the process and if there are no adverse findings, will be granted customs clearance.

The next step is to pay the necessary levies and duties on GCMS or Ghana’s trading hub with a Visa card, Gh link card, mobile money, bank transfers or in any bank branch.

Where anomalies are detected, they will be routed to the Joint Inspection Management Information System, JIMIS, where a more thorough examination will be conducted.

New clearance system for goods marked for inspection

In the old system, importers had to mobilise all officers in good time from agencies related to the HS Codes of their goods to for inspection before they are granted a Customs release. They could however be stopped at the gate by Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, CEPS, officials or any state officials operating at the port.

With the new system, imports marked for inspection will benefit from the JIMIS on Ghana’s Trading Hub.

The JIMIS provides the functionality for all officers across the relevant agencies to be alerted online to convene for examination, following the selection of a time slot by the agent and confirmed by the terminal on GICCS. Equipped with mobile devices, the examination outcomes may be made whilst in the field for release or Customs Offence Report.

Where an examination requires testing, the agencies involved led by customs chemist will be present to take samples for the test. Ghana Standards Authority and Foods and Drugs Board will represent each other where testing is required depending on the nature of the goods. The test results will then be shared between these agencies.

Where goods are marked for physical inspection, the agencies involved led by CEPS officials will conduct the inspection once and for all.

The next step is to pay the necessary duties after that the importer is required to request their container from GPHA on GICCS.

GPHA Steps for Container Loading

GPHA will prepare the invoice for the service and notify the customer via GICCS. The importer makes payment and a waybill is generated which allows the importer to make a truck available to pick up the container. GPHA loads the truck with the container for exit.