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Opinions of Monday, 20 April 2020

Columnist: thepublisheronline.com

Osafo-Maafo crashes paperless ports

It is just eight months to general elections and there is a disruption of trade facilitation and revenue generation at the Takoradi Ports as the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS system has returned the country to the gloomy days of manual ports clearance with its associated risk factors and frustration to importers and agents.

All fingers and complaints of disappointment, frustrations and shock are pointing to the office of Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Marfo, who ordered the Ghana Link/UNIPASS system to take over the ports clearance operations despite several cautions that it would derail the progress of the Paperless Ports system introduced by Vice President Bawumia in September 2017.

The controversial Ghana Link/UNIPASS has introduced a new system, Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS), at the Takoradi Ports and its implementation on the Paperless Ports platform has been impossible, therefore freight forwarders have been ordered to stop using the electronic platform and rather resort to manual clearance.

A memo sent to the frustrated freight forwarders noted:

“GIFF Professionalism! Good afternoon members. Please the latest information is that anyone who has paid duties but is unable to get a release from the shipping line should send the payment receipt to the shipping line so they do a manual release for you. You can use that manual release for your clearance. This is the information from the UNIPASS system and UNIPASS Executive.

“So please anyone who has paid duties but the compliance and the release are not going through, please send a hard copy of your payment receipt to the shipping line. They would issue a manual release for you so you can go for your clearance. Thank you.”

CHAOS AT TAKORADI

Since Ghana Link/UNIPASS started to implement ICUMS at the Takoradi Ports, the process has been overly chaotic to an extent there are rising calls from stakeholders that the system should be halted.

The system has not been able to fully clear a single vessel and the delay is causing major problems to importers and agents, even at this COVID-19 season where very few vessels dock.

Under the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS operation, frustrated agents have ordered to print out previously scanned documents from the GCNet and West Blue systems to be used as a guide for valuation and manually attach current documents for submission before clearance may be possible.

The delay of the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS system means that all perishable cargo would go bad before they get cleared, there would be additional port rent charges for importers and shipping line demurrage charges.

DANGERS OF MANUAL CLEARANCE

The danger is that apart from the delays in manual clearance, it would lead to human interference as pertained in the era where corrupt officials used their discretion and induced influence to show bias and enrich their private purses.

The manual system allows for the theft of goods, undervaluation, document fiddling, document forging, bribery, and leakages in government revenue. Under the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS arrangement, because it is manual, there is nothing like electronic access to Container Movement Report (CMR) and Delivery Order (DO).

It is the attempt to move from such outmoded and unprofessional systems that under the auspices of the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President Bawumia in 2017 introduced the Paperless Ports electronic system and made a significant statement during the launch: “We expect the cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure ports efficiency. All of you have been engaged and must aim to do your parts to make the ports paperless. We would not really accept any excuses.

“Agencies and service providers who are not ready to go paperless by September 1, (2017), would not be allocated any cargo. On the removal on internal customs barriers, these barriers would be redundant in the long term with the introduction of the First Port Rule in Ghana.”
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In April 2020, there is a reverse of progress.

OSAFO-MARFO EXCITED

Despite the frustrations and chaos in implementing the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS at the Takoradi Ports and the disruptions it has caused in the trade facilitation chain, Yaw Osafo-Marfo has given instructions that “…at the midnight preceding the Tuesday, 28th April 2020, all customs processes will now take place within the new system”, a clear but curious indication he is excited about the new system.

MORE SOON on the exact interest and agenda of Yaw Osafo-Marfo and Deputy Finance Minister Kweku Kwarteng in the Ghana Link/UNIPASS ICUMS triangle.

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