The leadership of two freight forwarding associations, the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, (GIFF) and the Association of Customs House Agents of Ghana, (ACHAG) have expressed the need for adequate preparations before government introduces a new vendor to take over from all existing vendors operating at the Ports and borders as part of the new customs management reforms as Ghana Community Network Services (GCNet) threatens to go to court if government wrongly terminates its contract.
“I think government needs to go back and reintroduce it in a better format than what they are doing now. There are a lot of things they need to do to let us have confidence that this new system coming up is far better than what is existing now. There is lack of confidence in the system and that is why people are not too comfortable with it,” Yaw Kyei, President of ACHAG suggested.
“It goes both ways. Assuming we decide to pull the plugs on the system while we have a contract, government will take us to court. So if government is doing the same and pulling the plug and not letting the company’s contract come to an end, clearly we would have to go through certain motions,” Carl Sackey, GCNet, said.
This concern was raised on the live Eye on Port panel discussion, when some vendors and users of customs clearance processes expressed their positions on the incoming government’s new customs management reforms that is supposed to be driven by the UNIPASS technology operated by Ghana Link.
Is UNIPASS Ready?
Edward Akrong, President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, claimed the UNIPASS is not as functional as it is being touted by the Government, and the pilot program in some low-stress areas, is not yielding much results.
“As we speak, go to the stations where the senior minister ordered the roll over, what is happening there? They are still using the GCNet and PAARS by West Blue system. So far, I have seen one declaration from Aflao,” he revealed.
This according to him, made him wonder if the UNIPASS is at full strength to take over from the existing vendors, at stress areas especially in Tema which has not been fully tested with the system.
“This is all not plug and play like it looks. Just get set ready to go! Once we plug, we don’t want to have any issues. When the frustration starts, and you cannot clear on time, and the clients are coming at you, and shipping lines are taking their demurrages because of delays…that is where the frustration starts,” he explained.
The President of GIFF asked why the case of the multiplicity of vendors and inadequate interoperability of systems is being publicised profoundly by the Government, as upon experience, West Blue and GCNet have been able to provide a seamless port clearance system.
“We do not feel at the back end, how the transactions go through because it is seamless,” he opined.
On his part, the President of ACHAG, Yaw Kyei, revealed that his outfit is excited that a single vendor is to be deployed to kick out the ineffective Cargo Tracking Notes as well as other vendors which had been a mistake from its inception.
“Compliance is coming off the system, CTN is coming off, and CCVR is even off the system, and you can put in the BOE way ahead of time, and you can correct any issues before the vessel arrives. So, we are excited about that,” he affirmed.
He added that his outfit is open to new customs management reforms once it would contribute to port efficiency and ease of doing business with efficient end-to-end customs management system.
The President of ACHAG however stated that GCNet as an existing vendor may have equally been considered to lead the new customs management reforms since they have demonstrated competency over a long period of time.
“That’s why sometimes we are also a bit more hysterical not knowing who is coming in. Whoever comes in and is able to offer services we are okay. I must say GCNet for example we have never had problems with them. They have offered services that we have very little to worry about. Assuming whoever comes in is the same or better than GCNet, why not,” he indicated.
He said he was unhappy about the initial training arrangements that was being implemented by the team from UNIPASS but the situation has improved.
“The start of the UNIPASS program had not been too good, but efforts have really been made, such as training programs.”
Eddy Akrong however was of the opinion that UNIPASS hasn’t prepared users well enough ahead of their takeover of customs management systems.
“One thing we also stress is that, the customs regimes are not just one. You don’t just do imports. You’re doing transit, exports, temporary importation, etc. If you do not go through all these processes to identify the issues therein, then we are going to have problems when we really start,” he expressed.
The Deputy General Manager, Technical, of the Ghana Community Network Services, Carl Sackey revealed that government via a letter by the Senior Minister has asked GCNet to handover its data and systems for review and eventual replacement with a new system to takeover customs management in Ghana, but a timeline was not set for that.
He explained that so far as they still have a contract with Government till 2023, they will continue to execute their mandate for which they were contracted.
“They haven’t given us an ultimatum that indicates a date to handover. There is nothing of the sort. We are still saying that, we want to execute the contract as specified which ends December 2023.”
He said GCNet are happy with providing the state with the sovereign data of the country but cannot handover the other elements of the government demands, as they constitute intellectual property and giving them out to a competitor would be inappropriate and illegal.
“CUPIA is the one providing the software which is the same thing GCNet is doing for Ghana. To want GCNet to handover stuff that constitutes intellectual property to a competitor, that doesn’t add up!”
GCNet refuted the idea that it did not fulfil targets set for them and contributed to inefficiencies in the system. GCNet also said it did not have a problem of interoperability with other vendors.
“It is technically GCNet and West Blue which are the two players in the port interfacing. I do not remember the last time we had a meeting or email to that effect, because the systems are working,” he stated.
GCNet to see out contract or go to court
Carl Sackey denied the notion that they are holding the country to ransom, and emphasized that GCNet are only focused on executing its contract, hence any impediment will be subjected to legal proceedings to bring about justice.
“For us to accept anything, we would have to go to court. Because if government doesn’t see reason, we would go to court,” he emphasized.
He stated that GCNet would continue to ensure that they have their systems up and running and are resolved to secure government revenue and ensure trade facilitation under the current conditions.
“It is important that we note that as an entity that is interested in making Ghana work, whether government takes a decision to do parallel or not, we would have to continue to operate, because it serves nobody’s interest if the freight forwarders and importers suffer undue demurrage because of these contractual issues,” he assured.