The UNIPASS Agreement Saga…..National, Political or Personal Interest?

By: Norvan Acquah-Hayford

Email: norvan986@gmail.com

Ghana has had a chequered history of implementing the Single Window platform from 2002 when the Ghana Community Network Services (GCNet) started the process.

Since then, much gains have been made after significant investments of over $80million dollars in the required infrastructure over the years. The substantial achievements chalked by the country through the work done by GCNet has received public commendation from past and present governments. The latest to laud these two entities for their roles in the implementation of the policy include Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, an apostle of the policy and Deputy Trade Minister, Hon. Carlos Ahenkorah.

It therefore comes as surprise to many Ghanaians that the same Hon. Carlos Ahenkorah would announce that the Ministry had contracted Ghana Link Network Services with its Korean partner, CUPIA Korea Customs to implement the UNIPASS contract for ten years.

Within the context of government’s avowed commitment to insist on value for money for agreements it enters into, there certainly are more questions than answers with this contract. The announcement of a contract with Nick Danso’s Ghana Link, which was signed on March 29, 2018 and published on the website of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA), will only duplicate the roles that GCNet and Customs World are already playing with a mandate to carry on till 2023 and 2020 respectively, per their prevailing contracts with government.

Somehow, the government through the Ministry of Trade and Industry is seeking to justify its action by giving an untenable explanation that the deal with UNIPASS would cost Ghana less compared to what GCNet and Customs World are charging. The fact is that GCNet charges 0.4% of Free On-board (F.O.B) while Customs World charges 1 % on Cost, Insurance and Freight (C.I.F) broken down into .35 for West Blue, Government .35% and Ghana Link .35CIFfor external verification. A service which Ghana Link has never performed but collected money for it. From reliable information, corroborated by the Deputy Trade Minister, Carlos Ahenkorah himself, UNIPASS will charge 0.75% of F.O.B.

Meanwhile, many players in the port community and beyond continue to refer to the numerous innovations that GCNet and West Blue keep introducing in the quest to automate trade facilitation and port clearance processes in the country as well as the efficiency that these investments have brought to trade and port operations.

The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) for instance, has kicked against the arrangement of a new system which is to be called UNIPASS, asking government to reconsider its decision. Technical Committee member of GIFF, Johnny Mantey has cautioned that throwing away GCNet’s over 15 years’ experience and West Blue’s three years’ experience, coupled with the huge investments they have made will be too costly to the state.

He questioned the value to be derived from the new agreement, given that it is not any different from what is being done, not to mention that it is comparatively more expensive to operate.

Previous Investments

Over the years, GCNet has played a pioneering role in the provision of robust and time tested e-applications for the efficient processing of trade and customs transactions in the port community and beyond. It has so far invested over $80m which has directly impacted the creation of a competitive business environment resulting in an improvement in Ghana’s ranking in the World Bank sponsored business competitiveness survey. Customs World also has committed to invest $10m to improve its operations to deepen efficiency at the country’s ports.

So far, as an innovator and leader in the provision of e-solutions to Government, its agencies and other players in the trade facilitation space, GCNet has deployed the following innovative e-applications:

  • The Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) which enables expeditious processing of all customs processes automatically.
  • The Ghana Integrated Cargo Clearance Systems (GICCS) which serves as the central hub for all players in the clearance value chain.
  • The e-MDA portal which enables all Ministries, Agencies and Departments to issue licenses, permits and exemptions that are required for imports/exports. The activation of the paperless exemption module on the eMDA portal which enables Ministries Departments Agencies (MDAs) and their clients to process applications for duty and tax exemptions electronically in the end to end port clearance chain without the use of any form of paper.
  • The Letter of Commitment (LOC) module on the eMDA portal which enables the Central Bank and Commercial Banks to track foreign exchange payments for imports and foreign exchange earnings from exports, saving Ghana more than $5bn in exports value following its introduction from July 2016 to June 2017.
  • The Ghana Single Window App, an information tool to facilitate access to trade related data in the trading community, that enables one to track the status of shipments, arrivals and departure of flights and vessels, airway bills or the bill of lading information, know about the Customs exchange rate, a currency convertor, HS codes and tax rates and search engine for appropriate electronic import declaration forms documents and their status among others. The mobile application is currently on Google Play store or Apple store for free download and use.
  • The e-Registrar portal. This allows online business registration with the issuance of an electronic Certificate, e-shop and e-payment platforms. The e-certificate and e-payment functions on the e-Registrar portal are supported by a number of services online, including the e-Shop which allows company searches, reservation of company names and the booking of marriage ceremonies amongst others. The deployment of the e-registrar has reduced significantly the time it takes to register businesses and companies.
  • GCNet operates a state of the art Tier III Data Centre including four other Data Centres at strategic locations across the country as part of its deep commitment to ensure data integrity and security in the space in which it operates.
  • The Data Centres cater for the over 97 Customs sites and 67 Tax offices of the Ghana Revenue Authority across the length and breadth of the country. With the recent infrastructure addition, GRA has over 146 offices connected across the country, making it the largest single entity with the widest spread networked offices in Ghana.

The above listed achievements demonstrate the huge investments in product development, infrastructure and capacity building among other significant support to its technical partner, the Ghana Revenue Authority.

The provision of the following multiple electronic platforms on the back of systems availability nationwide, have also significantly contributed to improved revenue mobilisation and trade development thereby enhancing business competitiveness, trade facilitation and revenue collection. The milestones include:

  • Single Window Platform for Customs and Port transactions.
  • Business registration and reporting.
  • Paperless processing of annual company returns.
  • Reduction in cost of doing business.
  • Improved revenue for Government and socio-economic development of the country.
  • Customs paperless processes at the country’s ports
  • 95% of GRA revenue generated from the GCNet/GCMS and TRIPS system.

Impact of GCNet’s Operations on Revenue

GCNet’s platform accounts for 95 percent of the total revenue collected by GRA on behalf of Government. In a day this platforms collects 90 million Ghana Cedis.  Records available indicate that the automation of the GCNet enabled GRA-Custom processes between 2003 and 2016 witnessed a revenue increase from GH¢2,492, 144, 65.42 in 2003 to GH¢13,160,942,845.48in 2016. On the domestic side, revenue improved since deployment of the Total Revenue Integrated Processing Systems – tripsTM– from GHS 3bn in 2012 to GHS 15.7bn in 2017.

Working with one of its partners, GCNet’s technical support to the Registrar-General’s Department (RGD), has resulted in the department realising GHc65.5m through the e-Registrar portal in 2017.

From the foregoing, it is evident that GCNet has the required capacity to implement the Single Window platform for the effective and efficient running of our ports and revenue generation generally. With the collaboration of West Blue, these two organisations are no doubt, set to give Ghana the best as far as Single Window operations are concerned. Any attempt to side-line them is definitely not in the interest of Ghana.

West Blue’s impact on Port operations

In November 2017, a major assessment that was done by stakeholders on the coming of West Blue Consult to the ports before they were taken over by Customs World of Dubai showed that, indeed the company which took over the operations of the Destination Inspection Companies as the technical partner with Ghana Customs had introduced procedures which helped to reduce the turnaround time at the Ghanaian ports.

Assessing West Blue’s impact, Sampson Asaki, the Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana, when interviewed by the media said, since Customs took over from the Destination Inspection Companies, with the assistance of West Blue as the technical partner, the stress that importers went through reduced.

“I must say that whiles it has reduced the stress, definitely it will reduce the cost of businesses in the country because if you have to burn fuel in and out, those things were automatically taken out,” he said.

Airfreight Director of Conship, Linda Vasnani, on her part said, once importers were able to process or generate their import declaration they could actually track its progress from the beginning, right to the end.

“Initially, if we need to track it, we need to be sending emails to the inspection companies, they will have to send us responses at their own convenience, but now, you can track it from beginning to end when there are rejections,” she said.

The Ghana Union of Traders Association President at the time Nana Dr.Ofori Ameyaw I, pointed out that, “all in all, I can say that they have done what they could to assist Customs transformation our country,” while a member of the Wire WeavingAssocaition, Isaac Nat Korsah said repetition of information when one is applying for the CCVR, was eliminated so it made their work quicker.

“We have now become believers because some of us were sceptical but you have been able to explain the thing to us in a very simple manner to the extent that all this cynicism actually disappeared”, a former Ranking Member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Professor George Gyan-Baffour said during a visit to West Blue consulting.

“We are impressed with the achievements made. The pre-arrival assessment reporting system has reduced the time of import classification and valuation,” the President of AGI, James Asare-Adje said.

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