A Former Commissioner of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Wallace Akondor, has urged the Customs Division of GRA, to increase its prosecution of malfeasant clearing agents in addition to slapping penalties on them, to create sanity within the customs house business.
“I think that for people who wilfully misconduct themselves we should in addition to securing the revenue and the penalties thereon stem up prosecutions,” he suggested.
Wallace Akondor, who was engaged in an Eye on Port panel discussion, with the current President of GIFF, Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, and a former President of GIFF Joseph Agbaga on assessing the Customs House Agents and Dealing with the Fallouts, also urged the ethics committee of the Ghana Institute of Freight forwarders to enforce its measures to weed out miscreants from legitimate clearing agents.
“As an institution, the operators in the industry must help to motivate the good ones and take out the bad ones. The committee on ethics should begin to crack the whip on members that default,” he stated.
The panel discussion was an effort by Eye on Port to come to a solution to the multiple reported cases of importers being cheated or defrauded by some individuals who pose as clearing agents, and gradually tarnishing the reputation of the freight forwarder, who in essence is supposed to be the advocate and mediator for the trading public.
Reject Flattering Deals
The President of the Ghana Institute of Freight forwarders, Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, cautioned importers to be vigilant in their dealings with clearing agents who would offer flattering deals because according to him, that is a typical red flag for potential fraud.
He revealed that duties are fixed and non-negotiable so importers should cease to fall to the temptation of bargaining for lower duties.
“If the deal sounds too good be careful otherwise everything is game. It is unfortunate. I want to state it emphatically that nobody can do anything about your duty once it is appropriately determined,” he stated.
Amalgamation of Freight forwarder associations
The current President of the Freight forwarding body who admitted to GIFF not having done enough to conscientize traders, revealed that there is an amalgamation of the various local freight forwarding associations to form the Joint Committee of Freight Forwarding Associations which would create more transparency and regulate clearing agents in the country as an effort to sanitize the industry.
The President of GIFF urged the legislature to support the functioning of the unified associations.
“In no time we are going to come out, when we have properly announced it to our members, the modalities that we want to put in place and even groom it to a council situation where we want the state to give us a legislative instrument to properly streamline the industry,” he added.
Listing all licensed clearing agents
Also even though the Ghana Institute of Freight forwarders indicates that it publishes all freight forwarders in good standing on their website, it was agreed it is not enough as not all clearing agents fall among members of GIFF.
On the public’s call for an encompassing list for legitimate clearing agents, the veteran customs official said Customs should take up the responsibility of publishing legitimate clearing agents.
“We have established the Ghana Trade Hub that should be used effectively. All information like the total listing of the agents should be listed on the hub,” he said.
Addressing the statement from the new Board Chairman of the GRA, Professor Stephen Adei, who lamented that Ghana could be entertaining too many clearing agents, the Former President of GIFF, Joseph Agbaga said he does not think quantity should be the focus because Freight Forwarding is a profession which should be opened for all those who qualify.
He revealed that the Ghana Freight forwarding industry is far advanced than other West African counterparts.
“Internationally, Ghana is far advanced than Nigeria for example. We had to lead them, mentor them before they are accepted at FIATA,” the former president revealed.
Importers to clear by themselves?
Addressing whether importers could as a remedy to the problem of untrustworthy clearing agents, clear goods by themselves, the Former Commissioner said the customs process is too cumbersome and importers would be met with difficulty when they are allowed to clear goods by themselves.
“We will eventually get there but as it is now we are a far way off because what is involved in the supply chain and to understand what is involved to do it on your own is very difficult,” he said.
The President of GIFF admitted that WTO agreements when projected into the future, will render the clearing agent as a non-compulsory entity in the port clearance chain, but cautioned that the task of clearing agents is such a complex one, they are necessary for trade facilitation, now and in the future.
“The treaty foresees a period of time where the tools will be so sharpened and readily usable that will *enable* the traders to pick up the tool and apply it themselves.”
He revealed that the Ghana Institute of Freight forwarders are evolving its curricula to explore other areas of the freight forwarding profession beyond, customs house business.