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Opinions of Sunday, 5 October 2014

Columnist: Ameyibor, Francis

Ghana Shippers Authority @ forty

(Feature by Francis Ameyibor, Development Communicator)

Accra, Oct. 3, – Being in business for several decades is an accomplishment that calls for a celebration.

GSA@40

The Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) stands in the citadel its 40 years milestone, established by NRCD 254 on 5th April, 1974 and was subsequently inaugurated on the 18th February, 1975.

The Authority started operations as a subvented Agency under the ministerial supervision of the Ministry of Trade. In 1987, with the passage of the Ghana Shippers Authority Cargo Sharing Regulations L.I 1347, the Authority weaned itself from government subvention and became a net revenue earner supporting the foreign exchange requirements of Bank of Ghana.

GSA’s activities were initially supervised by the Ministry of Trade, however overtime the responsibilities were handed over to the Ministry of Transport because most of the activities were related to the transportation of the cargo.

It was also to conform to the practice in West Africa where other Shippers' Councils, who were also members of the Union of African Shippers’ Councils, were under the supervision of the Transport Ministries of their various countries.

GSA continue to collaborated with private and public organizations in the maritime industry to pursue its primary objective of protecting and promoting the interests of shippers in relation to port, ship and inland transport problems in order to ensure safe, reliable and cost effective maritime transport and logistics.

The Authority has now grown into a formidable organization with Branch offices in Tema, Takoradi and Kumasi.

In the early 1990s, the GSA’s begun to expand its activities, coupled with the prevailing liberalization in the country at the time; established the “Import/Export Shipper Committees”.

The committee was to assist in effectively addressing the needs of importers and exporters on shipping matters.

Consequently, in 1994, the GSA commenced the formation of sectoral Shipper Committees as a medium for bringing the GSA’s activities to the doorsteps of shippers. There are presently ten regional committees.

Dr Kofi Mbiah, GSA Chief Executive said for over a decade, the Authority operated under the corporate name – Ghana Shippers’ Council.

In 1998 however, by virtue of the Laws of Ghana (revised edition) 1998, Act 562, the corporate name was changed to Ghana Shippers’ Authority.

He said the change in name took care of the transformation the Council had experienced and brought it in tune not only with the Constitution of Ghana but also in accord with the dynamics of modern shipping practice as far as the demand side of shipping was concerned.

Role of the GSA

GSA together with its sister Shippers’ Councils have for many years played their basic role of protecting and promoting the interest of shippers (importers and exporters) through the negotiation of freight rates with the Liner Conferences.

“This contributed to the drastic reduction and stabilization of freight rates on a number of routes by the mid 1980s.

“The monopolistic influence and strength of the Liner Conferences began to wane in the 1980s and by the 1990s the Liner Conferences serving the West and Central Africa trade had all disappeared.

“Today, in a post Liner Conference era, the GSA in collaboration with Cocoa Marketing Company has continued pro-active dialogue/negotiation with the liner shipping industry in Europe with the view to negotiating freight rates and improving general conditions of shipment for Ghana's cocoa,” Dr Mbiah stated.

He said in addition to this, Section 3(2) of the establishment law, NRCD 254 which deals with the functions of the GSA sets out the other core functions as:

1. To represent the views of shippers in regard to the structure of freight rates, availability and adequacy of shipping space, frequency of sailings, port charges, port facilities and other related matters;

2. To negotiate and enter into agreements with ship-owners on matters affecting shippers; and

3. To undertake studies and enquiries on problems affecting shippers in Ghana.

Dr Mbiah further explained that the passage of Ghana Shippers’ Authority Regulations 2012, (LI 2190) in 2012 provided the operational framework for executing the Authority's mandate in NRCD 254.

The regulations set out modalities for:

a. Creating a consultative platform between the GSA and shipping service providers that operate along the logistics chain in the transport industry with respect to international trade;

b. Negotiating charges in relation to shipment and clearance of cargo from the ports;

c. Negotiating minimum standards and quality of shipping services to be rendered to shippers; and

d. Provide information to shippers in Ghana through the use of advanced shipment information.

GSA has established ten regional vibrant Import/Export Shipper Committees with a mandate to meet regularly to discuss issues of concern to them and suggest ways in which these issues could be addressed to enhance competitiveness in international trade.

Shipper Complaints and Support Units (SCSU) are small office units of the GSA that are purposed to assist shippers through the provision of real-time support services in their trade and transport transactions at the frontiers.

Presently, there are five (5) SCSUs located at Aflao, Elubo, Takoradi, Kotoka International Airport (KIA) and Paga.

GSA Educational Mechanism

Mr Fred Aseidu-Dartey, GSA Corporate Affairs Manager explained that the Authority has also been educating shippers on their roles, rights and responsibilities in the logistics chain. Shippers have almost always received information on programmes, policies and measures that effect the trade and transport transactions.

GSA has been able to resolve hundreds of complaints received from shippers over unjustifiable dealings with them by some shipping service providers. Shippers have either received compensation for damage to their cargo, refund for overcharging, or demurrage and rent waivers in many cases, he said.

“MOBISHIP,” an initiative of the GSA, is a mobile information system by which shippers are able to access information on vessel arrivals at the ports. It enables shippers to proceed quickly with their cargo clearance processes, thus reducing cargo dwell time.

Mr Aseidu-Dartey noted that as part of GSA mandate to carry out studies on activities affecting shippers, it has put out a number of publications for the benefit of shippers in particular, and the shipping industry as a whole.

The following are some of the key publications:

· Shipping Review – A quarterly magazine that gives information on shipping in Ghana and other relevant news.

· Maritrade – A publication of papers presented by renowned scholars in the area of international maritime trade.

· The Admiral – A publication of papers presented at the annual Maritime Law Seminars for Judges of the Superior courts in Ghana by distinguished academics and practitioners in maritime law.

· Digest of Maritime Trade Statistics – Periodic publications on Ghana’s maritime trade statistics.

Trade Facilitation

GSA’s efforts at trade facilitation are manifested in its support and indeed its participation as a shareholder in the Ghana Community Network (GCNet) project. The GCNet has served as an electronic platform for quick clearance of goods from the port and for providing assurance for the collection of government revenue.

GSA has signed Memorandum of Understanding with counterparts in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for the unfettered use of the Ghana corridor for transit trade.

Two Transit Shipper Committees in Tema and Takoradi comprising relevant stakeholders in the transit trade have also been established for the purpose of discussing and eliminating bottlenecks in the transit trade.

GSA, in collaboration with the West Africa Trade Hub (WATH), has undertaking studies on challenges on Ghana’s transit corridor, and launched an advocacy campaign for its removal or reduction.

GSA the shipper’s advocate

At the international level, GSA has represented the interest of Ghanaian shippers by making useful inputs in the Rotterdam Rules, the international legal framework for the international carriage of goods with a sealink.

Whilst at the local level, GSA has made representations to various agencies, protecting the interest of shippers in policies, measures and programmes including the reduction in clearance steps from 25 to about 15, fixing of the foreign exchange rate for one week, instead of the daily changes in the rates.

For over 15 years, the GSA has been undertaking cocoa freight rate negotiation; this has given stability to Ghana’s cocoa economy, and resulted also in cost savings to the COCOBOD and saved Ghana USD 10million annually.

In 2013, GSA was able to negotiate the tariffs of the Ghana Ports & Harbours Authority (GPHA) and that of Freight Forwarders.

Research and Development

GSA has been conducting research into problems and challenges confronting shippers, which has help the formulation of appropriate solutions to shippers’ problems.

Research projects conducted includes pilfering at the Port – Takoradi and Tema Cargo Clearance procedure, taxes, duty and charges at the Banjul port in the Gambia Evaluation of the Benefits of the Transit Trade in Ghana.

Research into impact of an upward review of shore-handling rates by GPHA; a study of the Impact of the GCNet System on Cargo Clearance Procedures; and Impact of Demurrage Payments on the Activities of Shippers.

Contribution to Maritime Infrastructure

GSA has contributed to the Boankra Inland Port (BIP) Project - although not realized yet, acquired 400 acres of land at Boankra in the Ashanti Region and put up a three storey administration block for the purpose of establishing an inland port.

The Boankra Inland Port (BIP) project has now been re-packaged together with the Eastern Railway line for development by Government. Indeed a Transactions Advisor has been selected to package the project for funding.

GSA has established the Takoradi Logistics Platform (TLP) an oil service platform to be used by operators in the Jubilee Oil fields and other similar fields.

Built the Shippers’ Centre – to houses SHIPPERS’ offices equipped with computer facilities for use by shippers and other operators in the transport logistics chain.

A 12-storey Accra Shippers’ Center under construction is expected to house its Head Office as well as a ship brokerage hall, to create the medium for the establishment of a freight market in Ghana.

It is expected to be a Centre of “maritime technology” linking the ports of Tema, Takoradi, the Kotoka International Airport as well as the Boankra Inland Port by satellite.

Warehouses - The GSA has six large warehouses at a prime location at the Tema Harbour, to provide warehousing facilities to shippers, including shippers of landlocked countries transiting through the Tema port.

AWARDS

GSA has been recognized and awarded by many local and international organizations the:

a. Most Innovative Shippers’ Organisation in Africa – awarded by the Union of African shippers’ Councils (UASC) in 2002;

b. Contribution towards Marine & Freight Industry – 2001

c. Third Prize – African Shippers’ Councils - Best Practice – 2004

d. Best Maritime Agency in Trade Facilitation in West Africa for the Year 2007 – awarded by the West Africa Maritime Awards

e. The Most Innovative Shippers’ Council in West Africa for the Year 2008 – awarded by the West Africa International Magazine

f. Best Agency in Trade Facilitation in Africa for the Year 2010 and 2013 – awarded by the Shipping and Oil Digest

g. International Quality Crown Award – 2012

THE GSA moves on chasing its golden jubilee. Long Live GSA, Long live Ghana.