The Ghana Community Service Network Limited (GCNet), the information technology firm that transformed port clearing in the country about 16 years ago, will shut down operations on May 15, this year.
The shutdown, which also goes for the recent entrant, West Blue Consulting, follows the full rollout of a new customs clearing system, Uni-Pass, which according to the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), would centralise the processing and handling of all import and export documentations, a system known as a single window clearing system.
Uni-Pass, scheduled to start operations at the Tema Port today, is expected to replace the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAARS), which was being performed by West Blue, and the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS), jointly operated by the Customs Division of the GRA and GCNet.
The new system, another public-private partnership between the government and the Ghana Link Network Services, which has partnered with the Customs Uni-Pass International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea, the GRA said, would provide an unimpeded international commerce through the country’s ports.
Uni-Pass will operate the Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) which is expected to process an average of 2,000 import declarations daily from the premises of the Ministry of Finance where the infrastructure has been installed, a source told the Graphic Business.
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However, anxiety is building among freight forwarders and importers at the Tema Port following a directive from the GRA for agents to process vessel manifests and import declarations through the new Uni-Pass system from today.
While the freight forwarders at the port, according to the President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Mr Edward Akrong, were hoping that a pilot exercise would be conducted to test the robustness of the system to accept the 2,000 average declarations a day, the acting Commissioner General of the GRA, Mr Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah, in the directive said although the existing providers would be shutting down, the GRA had given them a written notice to operate and run some of the regimes until May 15, this year.
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GIFF and other freight forwarding associations, which held a meeting with the operators of the new system on Monday, April 20, 2020, called for a pilot roll-out before an eventual roll-out of the ICUMS at a later date.
However, the Graphic Business understands that officials of the new system on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 commenced the registration of freight forwarders to collate data on their companies, number of employees and tax identification numbers among other relevant information which is to facilitate a smooth operation.
The registration, some agents, however, said, had been fraught with challenges as the new system was unable to verify the Tax Identification Number (TIN) of many of the freight forwarders which would have seen some selected companies operating the various customs regimes to be used to pilot the system’s end-to-end effectiveness.
Already, there are concerns that Tema Port, which has the largest container traffic of about 1,000 to 4,000 containers every three days, may experience severe disruption in clearance operations under the new system if an adequate piloting of the system is not carried out to see how enhanced its performance will be.
The Commissioner General in a letter dated, April 24, 2020 and addressed to GCNet, West Blue and Magnate Technology Solutions, copies of which were meant for the Ministers of Trade, Finance, Communications, Transport and other relevant stakeholders, said transitional measures had been put in place to ensure that import declarations for which payment had been made but not been cleared before April 28 would continue to be processed in the GCNet system.
Similarly, the letter suggested that existing ex-warehousing, freezones and other suspense regimes declaration would also be made to continue until May 15, 2020.
This, thus, suggests that classification and valuation stages in the import clearance process will be undertaken using the new ICUMS (Uni-Pass).
Mr Owusu-Amoah, however, was unavailable to answer further queries on the apprehension about the challenges the system might pose if a coordinated pilot test was not carried out.
Presently, questions are being raised about the systems efficiency since its take-off at the Takoradi Port on April 1, 2020, after an initial take off at some 49 land borders across the country on March 1, 2020.
According to the Takoradi Branch Vice Chairman of GIFF, Mr Dereck Prince-Agbodjan, the Takoradi clearance of goods at that port using the Uni-Pass system had been fraught with challenges with many people unable to clear their consignments.
Takoradi Port, which has a low container cargo traffic concentration, has most importers spending more than five days to process a single declaration.
The Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association, Mr Sampson Asaki Awingobit, for his part, is advocating for the government to operate the new system alongside the existing ones to help the new provider to collate adequate data and also correct all the teething problems before allowing the Uni-Pass, a complete takeover of processes.