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26.10.2005 General News

CEPS bares teeth on fraud

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Accra, Oct. 26, GNA - Dismissed officers of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) have been identified as major contributors to fraud committed at major ports of entry in the country.

These dismissed workers were engaged by customs house agents and given the leeway to continue the very acts that led to their dismissal, Mr. Sampson Hammond, Deputy Commissioner in-charge of Finance and Corporate Planning at CEPS, told journalists in Accra on Wednesday. Mr. Hammond, who was briefing the journalists on measures to enhance revenue collection therefore cautioned freight forwarders of the consequences that awaited them with regard to their businesses. "Such ex-officers of CEPS are nullified by law to be certified as proficient to operate as customs house agents in spite of their knowledge in customs operations."

According to Mr. Hammond, the Service had received a lot of negative comments and remarks from the general public but CEPS believed that the comments were made in ignorance hence it had embarked on an education campaign.

The campaign is aimed to arm the importing public or traders with the right knowledge about CEPS and their work and the requirements expected from the public when dealing with the Service. Speaking about their work, Mr. Hammond said the CEPS collected about 55 per cent of total national revenue which was made up of import, VAT and other agency levies and fees.

However, a huge chunk of expected revenue is lost through leakages from various means, including abuse of transit trade. The Deputy Commissioner said some arrests carried out recently revealed that Ghanaians had resorted to describing goods meant for home consumption as transit trading in order to avoid the payment of import duties.

Some of the tricks are to consign goods to known foreign names in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali or use of their names through the foreign names.

The importers also forge Ghanaian transit stickers and attempt to smuggle goods out of the port, avoid scanning and front for goods in transit and assist foreigners to evade taxes.

Mr. Hammond said some of the transit goods had been traced to popular markets in the country and evidence of this had led to the arrest of 20- and 40-footer containers in Tema and some vehicle parts currently parked at the CEPS headquarters.

He said, other importers were also taking advantage of the ECOWAS protocol of free movement of goods and services to bring in vehicles through Togo.

The vehicles are meant to return to Togo after 90 days of stay but this had become an avenue for Ghanaians to bring in vehicles through Lome or through unapproved routes in order to evade import duties, Mr Hammond said.

He noted that the abuse of temporary importation was rampant at the eastern and western frontiers saying, "unfortunately, these vehicles are fraudulently registered at DVLA."

Mr. Hammond therefore urged the management of the DVLA to start using the CEPS database GCNet system to help check such acts. CEPS has also set up a special task force to smoke out such tax evaders.

The Deputy Commissioner outlined the new requirements for clearing of vehicles to include the need for importers to show certificates of title, origin, retail sales, bill of sales or any official authorised evidence of bona fide ownership.

He said the Destination Inspection Companies had also become an avenue for fraud through the fake invoices and urged such companies to live up to expectation and show due diligence in the discharge of their duties.

He said CEPS previously handled pre-shipment work expertly and could do the same if destination inspection was handed over to the Service.

As part of control measures, Mr Hammond urged the public to seek information through the CEPS website.

He said the CEPS had also entered into a mutual assistance agreement with Niger in the spirit of south-south cooperation for Niger to provide the names of registered importers with their identification numbers to their Ghanaian counterparts. The two customs organisations would also share monthly information on landed cargo.

This would enable Ghana to associate goods imported as transit to Niger to specific importers and also facilitate a reconciliation process to confirm that goods sent to Niger actually landed. The agreement would be extended to other neighbouring countries including Mali, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire.

CEPS network system under the GCNet is also working on a route mapping and tracking system to monitor transit goods to the exit points while the Gateway Secretariat is also working on a private-public investment for electronic tracking.

Mr Hammond said as part of the control measures all customs officials were mandated to wear nametags.

The Service has also stepped up its anti-smuggling activities while task forces had been established to monitor and check tax evasion and weed out saboteurs, including CEPS officials from the system. Mr Hammond said so far, the anti-smuggling exercise had resulted in the arrest of smugglers of 2,547 mobile phones declared as accessories with a duty element of over 450 million cedis, excluding penalties. Importers of over 20,000 pieces of African print smuggled through the eastern frontier had also been arrested while over 27 vehicles suspected to be uncustomed were seized in September. CEPS said it was expected to collect 12.5 trillion cedis in revenue for 2005 and it had collected 8.2 trillion at the end of September. CEPS says it believed that the last quarter was its "cocoa season" when imports increased and therefore it was determined to check leakages in order to meet the target.

Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, said the Ministry was interested in getting what was due it and would therefore support CEPS.

He said the Ministry was aware of the conditions of CEPS officials, especially those at the border towns, and added that an enhanced revenue would enable them to improve their conditions. 26 Oct. 05