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Opinions of Thursday, 24 August 2017

Columnist: Kuuku Sam, Institute of ICT Professionals

The role of ICT in facilitating Ghana’s international trade

The government of Ghana has repeatedly emphasized the need for more trade, and not aid, as the sustainable way to development. This has been pointed out on several occasions by the Vice President of the Republic, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia. In February 2017 at the World Government Summit in Dubai, speaking on the topic “Leapfrogging Development: The African Story”, he made it clear that Ghana is seeking for trade partnerships and not aid givers. This was re-echoed by President Akufo-Addo at the African CEO forum in Geneva in March, 2017.

International trade is mainly concerned with the import and export of goods and services. When it comes to trade, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be seen as a production sector comprising hardware, software, telecommunication, mobile applications and ICT services or as an enabler of socio-economic development. While Ghana may not be competitive as an ICT producer, the country can use ICT as an enabler to transform the economy. Therefore, the idea of ‘trade, not aid’ requires the implementation of certain systems that will facilitate the easy movement of goods in and out of Ghana. In this regard, ICT applications including customs automation, risk management, single-window and port community systems will be crucial in achieving this. ICT can also assist in business process analysis, provide information through shipping portals and offer e-business solutions.

The implementation of the single-window system, which is an ICT-based concept, which provides traders with a one-stop shop for obtaining the necessary clearance and permits for imports and exports, has started. There is also a portal for all trade-related information to aid traders (www.ghanastradinghub.gov.gh). It is worthy to note that the implementation of paperless system is scheduled to start on the 1st September, 2017.

For a developing country like Ghana, ICT will facilitate trade in several ways. ICT applications will ensure that large amounts of information are processed in a quicker and reliable manner. This will also make electronic information available for re-use thereby eliminating repetitive tasks. In addition, procedures will be uniform for all traders and the availability of services will not be limited to official working hours. Furthermore, there will be better exchange of information among stakeholders.

The manual processing of documents is time-wasting, requiring a significant number of personnel. Even with the pervasiveness of ICT, papers must be submitted for handwritten signatures. The manual process and the payment of cash lead to multiple face-to-face interactions between business and customs officials. This has the tendency of creating a market for corruption. The integration of

ICT with the custom activities, called customs automation, will give the customs the capacity to process higher volumes of cargo in an efficient and timely manner. Though customs automation is expensive, it will lead to a paperless environment which has several advantages. A paperless environment requires less space, saves cost, aid documents handling and its eco-friendly. E-payment systems, which are constant features of customs automation, also reduce the risk of loss of government revenue.

If implemented properly, the single-window system will provide the ICT platform that will provide benefits to importers, exporters, customs, government and our economy. Importers and exporters will be served by a transparent and predictable system devoid of red tape. According to the General Manager for Marketing and Corporate Affairs at the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, Mrs Esther Gyebi-Donkor, staff members are under a lot of stress because of the overwhelming nature of their work. The single-window system will make the work at our ports less laborious. It will also increase productivity and revenue. Government will be the eventual beneficiary of the increase in revenue. The single-window system will also bring a more structured approach to the work at the ports which will improve compliance with rules. This will improve the economy as reduced corruption will mean more revenue for national development.

Although the integration of ICT will bring numerous benefits as discussed above, there is the need to prepare for the challenges that will accompany these changes. With a system that has been largely manual, converting it into a paperless system will require a system in place to deal with human error in its early days of implementation. Also, there is the need to ensure that the system is robust to prevent it from breaking down often and protect it from cyber attacks. A case in point is the recent Petya cyber attack which caused outages to the computer systems of Maersk globally. Going digital comes with the risks of hacking. It is important to ensure that unscrupulous IT professionals do not hack into the system and steal confidential data and commit fraud.

As the paperless systems at our ports require the integration of the systems of several organisations, there is the need for a service management system that will ensure its success. ICT professionals must be engaged to play various roles such as incidence, change and problem management in order to ensure minimum disruption of service. More importantly, an IT Steering Group (ISG) consisting of senior management of the key stakeholders from business and IT is needed to set the direction, strategy and priorities of service development projects. This steering group if already exists, can now play the role of IT governance by making sure all IT policies are complied with. There is also the need for IT professionals with expertise in cybersecurity that will ensure that the system is secured at all times. This is where the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana can assist in making this project successful.

ICT as an enabler can help Ghana to improve its external trade especially as the government plans to launch its “one district, one factory” programme that will require a lot of import and export of goods. With the anticipated increase in imports and exports, efficient management of our ports will ensure that we make the most out of every square metre.

Kuuku Sam, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana For comments, contact author: kuuku.sam@iipgh.org Mobile: 0274333510