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20.11.2010 General News

Rice War

By Samuel Doe Ablordeppey & Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu - Daily Graphic
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In apparent reaction to complaints by small-scale rice importers over high tariffs, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has slashed the duty at the Elubo Border from $0.97 per kilo of rice to $0.75 per a kilo to pave the way for the importers to clear thousands of bags of rice locked up at the Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire border.

This resulted from a meeting between officials of the GRA and local importers of rice at Elubo Friday.

However, the Food and Beverages Association of Ghana, the umbrella body of the large importers, has criticised the decision, describing it as “unfortunate”.

Last Wednesday, truck loads of imported rice were reported to have been locked up at the Elubo Border for the past four weeks as a result of the inability of the small-scale importers of the commodity to pay the appropriate tariffs, for which they organised a massive demonstration to press home a demand for a downward review of the tariffs.

Following the reduction announced by the GRA, tax officials at the border told the media that they were waiting for a letter from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to enable the importers to clear the consignment.

While the Chairman of the association of small importers, Mr Solomon Kojo Kwesi, expressed the gratitude of the association to the authorities for the prompt response leading to the reduction, the Spokesperson for the Food and Beverages Association of Ghana, Mr John Awuni, expressed disappointment and shock at the tax review granted the small importers.

He told the Daily Graphic in a quick reaction to the news of the waiver that the GRA’s action was “paradoxical, discriminatory, anti-market and a violation of the basic fairness and certainty principles of taxation”.

Mr Awuni, who is also the Corporate Affairs Manager of the Finatrade Group of Companies, importers of rice and other food commodities into the country, said it was very surprising to learn that taxes could be waived for companies that imported small quantities of rice when the large importers, who had been importing rice for many years, had never had such audience with the tax authorities.

“One of the principles of taxation is that it must be fair and certain, irrespective of the form of tax and who is paying it,” Mr Awuni stated, adding, “To say that taxes can be varied because one is an indigene is very discriminatory, disappointing and anti-market oriented.”

He said the law required importers of food-based products into the country to register their businesses and products with regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drugs Board and wondered whether those rice importers who got audience with the GRA had their products and operations registered.

Mr Awuni said the large rice importers operated very formal structures, directly and indirectly employed thousands of Ghanaians who were given competitive salary packages, health insurance, provident fund and other reward schemes that contributed greatly to revenue generation in the country.

The Food and Beverages Association of Ghana had earlier challenged assertions by the small-scale importers that importers of rice through Elubo paid higher duties than those paid on rice delivered at the Tema Harbour.

Mr Awuni, reacting to a front page publication in the Daily Graphic of last Wednesday, claimed that currently rice importers who used the Tema Port paid $1.02 per kilogramme of Jasmine rice, as against the $0.97 per kilogramme paid at Elubo.

He called on the GRA to publish all the rates, duties and charges for rice at all ports, particularly rice imported through the Tema Harbour and the Elubo Border, and called on the government to adopt a policy for all rice importation to pass through the Tema Port, where all the appropriate duties and tariffs could be charged to generate more revenue for the country.

At the moment, the trucks are still at the border awaiting a letter, amidst agitation by the truck drivers.

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