Government has revealed that it is going to eliminate all multiple vendors contracted by various Ministries, Departments and Agencies to provide services in the port clearance chain at the nation's ports and borders of entries and exits.
“We want to replace the multiplicity of vendors with a single vendor. A single vendor that will be responsible for what we call the ‘End to End System.’ This is because at the moment, we have these sub-systems coming together to give us an end to end view,” he explained.
Speaking on Eye on Port’s live interactive programme, a deputy Minister of Finance, Kwaku Kwarteng said government had an overall industrialisation agenda for the port industry which included three fundamental targets which are: Automating all ports clearance process, eliminating multiplicity of vendors that provide IT, capacity building and other services for MDAs and also have the Government of Ghana be able to own and control all data gathered through the port clearance process.
The Deputy Minister explained that towards achieving a full automated port clearance process, the paperless system was rolled out by government which is largely considered successful.
“It has been a good initiative and a lot of the processes are now done online. The issue of getting regulators to provide permits online, is one of the things the new system is working on at the moment,” he said.
According to the Deputy Finance Minister, the current system of having multiple vendors providing end-to-end customs management has led to inefficiencies within the port clearance chain and subsequently reducing the expected revenue of government from the port and import trade.
“Both the GCMS and the Pre-Arrival Assessment Reporting System are owned by different vendors who consider themselves as competitors and you are asking them to complement each other for the benefits of Ghana’s Customs Regime. We did not quite get the kind of cooperation that we wanted,” he stated.
He said, in pursuit of the agenda to have a single vendor operate at the ports, government has signed a contract with a Ghanaian company, Ghana Link who will be using a technology called UNIPASS which is a product owned by the South Korean’s Customs called, CUPIA.
According to Kwaku Kwarteng, who doubles as the Hon. Member of Parliament for Obuasi West, the coming on board of the UNIPASS Technology will provide end-to-end port clearance services.
“I have looked at the recommendation for many experts as well as customs and technical people who have gone to actually review the system and they recommend it is the system that can serve our purpose,” he indicated.
Own our systems
He said not only will the challenge of inadequate level of interoperability be solved by the new system, but Ghana would also get to own the IT systems and all accompanying data which the current vendors have absolute control over.
He said the contract by government with the new single vendor will allow customs to gradually takeover the IT Infrastructure that will be deployed by the new vendor.
“The decision to focus on a single vendor and to get GRA representing Ghana’s Customs have a direct relationship with the new vendor is the beginning of a culture of customs taking control over this. If you look at the new arrangement with this new service provider a lot has changed,” he disclosed.
The Deputy Minister of Finance lamented that government had been worried over its inability to control and own a data provided through the customs management systems.
“It was also about our ownership of our customs management systems. We have become so used to having private people do things that customs must be able to master and own. And the multiplicity of vendors with different contract terms and many of these systems not making customs the center of their operations; even if it was in theory, in practice it never happened,” he continued.
Asked why government did not consider to merge the existing vendors to harmonize the clearance processes, into one entity to solve the problem of interoperability, the Deputy Minister said this was not achievable as these vendors are competing private business entities.
“These companies don’t forget, have other businesses doing. They’re just doing this as one of the things they do. So we to put them together to work together in all the things that they do? That was not something I considered,” he expressed.
He said to strategically resolve the issue, Government had to introduce an entirely new vendor to provide end to end port clearance services, and the decision went through rigorous external international assessment.
“It was recommended by the international consultants that did the work that we had to ought to have a single vendor, a single name, so we can focus on perfecting that system,” Mr. Kwarteng added.
He revealed that government does not anticipate any judgement debts to be paid as current ongoing negotiations are yielding positive results so far.
“We have reviewed the situation and we don’t know why people keep talking about judgement debts when the current vendors exit. I do not believe at all there would be judgement debts. Government has said to the outgoing vendors that we are happy to enter into discussions to ensure that there is a smooth exit,” he emphasized.
UNIPASS to bring savings?
He said the new vendor will be paid 0.75% of fob which is higher than what is being paid two major existing vendors (GCNet and West Blue) which comes to about 0.68%.
But the Deputy Finance Minister emphasized that savings would ultimately be made when the variety of services that would be provided are considered. Besides, there will be not increases in Port Charges whatsoever.
According to the Deputy Minister of Finance, currently the new system has been deployed in a pilot program at 49 entry points of the country and is yielding positive results.
Support UNIPASS Kwaku Kwarteng said the new UNIPASS Technology has come to stay and encouraged the various stakeholders in the port and shipping industry to embrace the change with a good attitude so together, Ghana can reap the full benefit of the investment.
“Let us not discuss it in a negative spirit. We will proceed and perfect the system, so help us do so,” he appealed.
He nonetheless gave credit to GCNet and West Blue Consulting and other existing vendors for being instrumental in making automation of the country’s port processes a success over the period of their existence.