President of the Association of Customs House Agents of Ghana, Yaw Kyei, has expressed that freight forwarding companies should be held culpable when an import clearance transaction goes wrong, between an individual belonging to the company and an importer.
This, according to him, is because the companies, who are licensed by customs, are supposed to be well-informed on every transaction made in the name of the company.
“They are in league with them. There’s no way an individual can clear a consignment at the port, using a company’s name without the consent of the owner of the company. So whenever issues of this sort arises, we always recommend that, they shouldn’t stop on the individual but rather move on to the company and if possible make them liable,” he argued.
The President of ACHAG, who was engaged in a live Eye on Port panel discussion on whether or not the clearing agent is proving to be a necessary evil, revealed that a major problem that has come to the attention of the freight forwarding fraternity is importers dealing with individuals and not companies which leads to the risk of being defrauded.
“Some of our member companies are not being responsible. Some of them just sit somewhere and entice individuals to go bring jobs where they stand at vintage points asking if you need help. Importers fall prey to these people and hand over documents to these individuals who might not even have an ID card,” he bemoaned.
This comes at the back of one too many importers who have reported of being defrauded by clearing agents they entrusted money with to clear their goods.
This necessitated the question to find out whether the clearing agent who is supposed to be the intermediary between state, shipping service providers and importers, is rather turning out to be a burden for the importing public.
Smile Agbemenu, Supervisor in charge of Customs Policy and Programs Department, also present at the panel discussion, agreed with Yaw Kyei’s position that freight forwarding companies should be held culpable when an import clearance transaction goes wrong because according to him, the Customs Division does not deal with individual names but licensed companies, in order to restrict access to only professionals licensed by Customs, so that they can track these entities.
“Access is restrictive. So long as you are able to use the platform to submit a declaration, it means that you have been licensed to do that. If you allow your platform to be used for the submission of that document then it means that you have given your consent to that. We will come after you and not that individual.”
He said freight forwarding companies are licensed through a rigorous investigative process where the individuals owning these companies are formally trained, and issued a proficiency certificate by customs, to be able to conduct the business of customs, on behalf of importers, which cannot be left to just any member of the public because the customs process is very complex.
“We have some key people who must be able to do that. One key person is the proficiency certificate holder, who has undergone a thorough examination process organized by customs to certify that this particular person understand the customs business. We expect that person to bring his knowledge to bare on the work,” he educated.
Clement Boateng, National Organizer of the Ghana Union of Traders Association, and Chairman of the Abosey Okai dealers Association who bemoaned some miscreants who have resorted to taking undue advantage of importers, said the customs house agents like GIFF, ACHAG, FAG and CUBAG should take up the responsibility of embarking on an educational campaign to bring more information on the business, to importers who according to him, have been left in the dark leading to their gullibility.
He also urged importers to demand accountability from the clearing agents they designate their consignments to in order not to suffer from inflated fees coined by some of these unscrupulous clearing agents.
“When they come, demand your documents and see that the money that you parted with is what is really reflecting on the document,” he advised.
Smile Agbemenu advised that, with regards to importers falling prey to inflated customs and port fees by some unscrupulous clearing agents, importers should always request for invoices from their agents and do all payments themselves while their agents work to clear their goods for them. According to him, the only money that should be handed over to agents should be the agent’s service charge.
“If you want to be smart on the part of the importer, all you can pay the agent is actually the service fee. Any money you would want to pay government or any of the authorities at the port you can be able to do that on your own,” he said.
He said importers should make use of improved technology introduced by customs such as the Ghana trading mobile app to track their consignments so they can monitor the work they have asked clearing agents to do for them.
Yaw Kyei, President of ACHAG, urged importers to verify credible and legitimate clearing agents via Customs, the Ghana Shippers’ Authority, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority as well as the websites of the various Custom house bodies such as the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, the Association of Custom House Agents Ghana and also urged the importing public to be very circumspect during their dealings with agents because of the of monetary transactions involved.
“That is why we are saying that before you hand over your goods worth $100K or $150K in cash or cheque to somebody, please verify who the person and company is. You can verify from customs, Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA), Ghana Ports Authority (GPHA),” he cautioned.
He revealed that to sanitize the rise of miscreants within the freight forwarding fraternity, the various freight forwarding associations are coming together to form the Joint Committee of Freight Forwarding Associations.
Customs on their part said they have introduced bio data measures that when some fraudulent clearing agents are apprehended, it is made impossible for them to continue to do business.