Few months ago, the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia's name was synonymous with "paperless" at the Tema Port, but The Herald, is informed that, the platform has collapsed, following the introduction of the UNIPASS-Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS).
The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) lamented that the paperless ports clearance system, is completely halted.Following the collapse, the importers disclosed that, the old system where hard copy of documents are printed for transactions, has become the order of the day, leading to long delays that attracts all manner of fees for the importer and trading community.
Currently, the clearing of cargo from the Tema Port, has become a nightmare as it now takes some five weeks to clear a single car; a sad situation which the GIFF blames UNIPASS-ICUMS trade felicitation platform.
GIFF, described the new delays as unacceptable and noted that under the UNIPASS-ICUMS platform, trade facilitation has been disrupted and has made doing business at Ghana's ports in the COVID-19 era very cumbersome.
"It has become normal to clear vehicles within a 5-week window which is totally unacceptable", GIFF noted in a document which compiles some of the avoidable challenges.
"Long delays in clearance of goods at the port leads to accrued interest charge, state warehouse rent and demurrage through no fault of the forwarder. If there are going to be delays, then government can reconsider taking off or extending the period for which interest charge and state warehouse rent is paid or calculated and also extending the 60 day moratorium on the clearance of vehicles', GIFF noted in a document presented to government on the sorry state on trade facilitation at the ports now.
It mentioned several other challenges that has been caused by UNIPASS-ICUMS:
"The Call Centre has virtually become non-productive, asagents move from the GPHA towers to the Customs Long Room and to Nick Hotel in search of solutions to problems. This cannot be normal. It only points to inadequate training, systemic challenges, non-user friendliness of the system and that the business processes in the system have not been properly mapped.
"Cargo can be gated out of MPS Terminal 3, Carried-In and Gate-In confirmed at GJT, and subsequently allow for a successful manifest matching, and yet cargo is physically not received at GJT until after about four days' time.
"Fees like interest charge, State Warehouse Rent (SWH) are neither user nor system defined. One will then have to resort to a remark in the system by Officers to go back to the Accounts section for a further issuance of tax bills for these payments. It is interesting to note that these tax bills do not actually state the reason for the payment. It should also be noted that these time bound fees become automatic if acceptance and valuation of declarations stay more than 2 weeks"
It said since UNIPASS-ICUMS started work, there have been challenges with the Vehicle Valuation Calculus Tool, challenges with declarations with duty exempt status and challenges with Default freight station, among other frustrations that has made life unbearable for members of GIFF, importers and the trading community at large.
Explaining challenges with the Vehicle Valuation Calculus Tool under the UNIPASS-ICUMS system, the GIFF document said "Declarants are unable to determine prior to arrival of vehicles, the duty involved in the clearance of vehicles. Clarity should be brought to bear on values of vehicles due to the nature of vehicle valuation so equity will prevail.Another major problem is "that of declarations with duty exempt status. The tax base amount for VAT in these situations is flawed and this has led to improper duty payments which will give rise to future litigation and refund requests."
Last week, The Herald reported that, frustration was setting in for members of GIFF and the trading public, over the additional fees government is charging them, because of avoidable delays in clearing imported goods under the controversially deployed Ghana Link/UNIPASS-ICUMS trade facilitation system.
GIFF, had stated in a letter addressed to the government that, the delays and disruption in trade facilitation under the Ghana Link/UNIPASS-ICUMS trade facilitation system, has become the new normal.
They demanded that, government stops making importers pay additional fees when the cause of the delay in clearing goods is not the fault of the importers, but rather the fault of Ghana Link/UNIPASS-ICUMS.
Edward Akron, National President of GIFF, in a letter addressed to the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Marfo, on Monday, August 24, 2020, was categorical that ICUMS, is to be blamed for the delays in clearing goods and trade facilitation.
"Our appeal is therefore based on the fact of the new normal of ICUMS and the drag it has introduced that makes it the rule now for clearance to go way beyond allowable grace periods.
"To this end, we, the members of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, having had extensive engagement with the importing and trading community, have resolved to appeal first to your food self to: cause to be suspended State Warehouse Rent Charges, cause to be suspended Interest charges, empanel a committee under the remits of the Ghana Shippers Authority to review downward all the other fees or review upwards the allowable grace periods taking into consideration all other interests", the letter from GIFF to Mr Osafo-Marfo noted.
It continued: "Hon. Senior Minister, we are at cross roads we therefore pray that you find this as extremely important and representative of the views of solution seekers on the ground, adding "we await a quick response respectfully, as we hold down the angst of those adversely affected with hope".
GIFF, explained that since the deployment of the Ghana Link/UNIPASS-ICUMS trade facilitation system, its members have been faced with countless challenges by they have held their breath in pain hoping the disastrous situation would normalize.
Other parts of the letter to the Senior Minister said "we have endeavoured to not raise the temperature unnecessarily to allow space for this new system to thrive seeing that our very objective position as practitioners with expert opinion vis a vis this change had been manifestly expressed.
We have in every turn after the deployment [of ICUMS], been faced with myriads of hiccups and challenges, nonetheless, we have made expertise available through formalized and informal arrangements and discussions; all in the effort at seeking solutions for the good of the industry and Mother Ghana",
Prior to the deployment of Nick Danso's Ghana Link/UNIPASS-ICUMS relevant stake holders in the trade facilitation chain, civil society groups and even Members of Parliament raised red flags.
Their calls on the government to operate cautiously, was ignored.
Some government appointees started to hop from one media house to another, acting as spokespersons for the controversial company.