Tension At Tema Port
South Korean company UNIPASS, has been given the clearance to begin operations on January 1, 2019, JoyBusiness has learnt. This means barring any last minutes changes, on January 1, 2019, the Single Window system jointly operated by Ghana Community Network Limited (GCNet) and Customs World Dubai (West Blue) will be unplugged for a new system to be installed.
UNIPASS that has Ghana Link Network Services as its local partner in March 2018 was awarded $40 million 10-year single window contract to provide paperless services at the port.
The contract since then has remained a subject of controversy with the Speaker of Parliament recently calling for the government to take a second look at it and make sure that there is value for money.
But according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), the introduction of UNI-PASS is expected to make the Ghana National Single Window (GNSW) more comprehensive.
In addition, the UNI-PASS system will include a clearance management system, a cargo management system, an information management system and an administration system.
What does this mean for our ports operations and what will be the cost to the country which has been operating an existing system with GCNet and West Blue now Customs World in the past 15years?
The paperless port is a project that integrates the systems of service providers to facilitate the clearing of goods without voluminous paperwork and reduce transactional time.
One cannot understand the government’s desire to change the operators of the system which according to the University of Ghana’s Business School survey has saved the nation over $500 million since its inception some two years ago.
It is estimated that the takeover of Single Window operations from Customs World (West Blue Consulting) and GCNet will cost taxpayers more money.
This is because UNIPASS will be charging the nation 0.75% fee (FOB) for 10 years for trade facilitation and Customs Management System in addition to the 0.3% scanning charges that Ghana Link charge, totalling 1.05 per cent of taxpayers’ money at the ports.
This figure, data shows is extremely higher than what the existing vendors West Blue and GCNet – are currently receiving as a fee.
GCNet, West Blue now Customs World in charge of single window operations together currently receive 0.68% fee (FOB) which is 0.08% lower than what UNIPASS is charging.
It is also not clear the preparation done for the change with just two weeks to January 1, 2018.
Risk of halting port operations and potential revenue loss
It can be envisaged that the government may lose millions of dollars at the port if it allows UNIPASS to take over the single window operations arbitrarily.
This is because the existing vendors would have to unplug their systems, which took years to build and perfect, to allow for the new system to come in place – which will cause huge revenue leakages.
Another big challenge is the training of Customs officials on how to operate the new system; new training for stakeholders to understand how the new system works; and the errors that come with operating such a new system before it reaches its smooth operating level.
Some industry players say the new system threatens the Vice President’s paperless agenda, which seeks to integrate all systems at the port for efficient trade.
The paperless agenda, which so far has helped improve revenue generation, is going on well. Systems are now more integrated, easing business transaction at the port and gradually increasing government’s revenue.
Operators at the port say there was not a stakeholder engagement or consultation prior to awarding the sole-sourced third single window contract to Ghana Link.
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 the 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 (GCNet and West Blue)
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.
Impact of GCNet’s operations on revenue
GCNet’s platform accounts for 95 per cent of the total revenue collected by GRA on behalf of the government. In a day this platform collects GHc90 million. 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¢13,160,942,845.48 in 2016. On the domestic side, revenue improved since the deployment of the Total Revenue Integrated Processing Systems - trips – from GH¢3bn in 2012 to GH¢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 Weaving Association, 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.