Customs officers have re-adopted the manual process of releasing goods to freight forwarders and clearing agents at the country’s busiest sea port, the Tema Port.
This is to ease the tension at Tema Port as a result of clearing agents’ inability to clear goods electronically through the new Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS), otherwise known as UNIPASS.
Acting Assistant Commissioner, Annabella Peprah-Foli, in a notice to all Customs officers said the Ministry of Trade has directed the cessation of upfront payment for Ministry Department and Agencies (MDA) fees before goods are cleared. “As a result, officers should not query or reject Bills of Entry (BOE) based on the non-submission of MDA permits,” the notice said.
The directive therefore means that importers and clearing agents can now clear their goods using the ICUMS system without the requisite permit for food, medicine and other chemicals.
Manual system breeds undervaluation
The manual processes adopted at the ports has led to undervaluation of many imported items. For instance, an importer was able to successfully clear a 2016 model Chevrolet for GH¢14.
A copy of the Customs declaration form shows that the declarant was not charged for import duty, import VAT, processing fee, ECOWAS Levy, GETFUND Levy, Net Charge VAT, and Vehicle Examination fee among others. The declarant was only charged GH¢9 for the Ghana Shippers Council SNF Fee, and GH¢5 for the MOTI E-IDF Fee.
IMANI questions new system
Franklin Cudjoe, Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of IMANI, a policy think-tank, in statement said the new system has no pricing data against which Customs can determine current prices and relevant taxes that must be paid to the state.
“ICUMS/ UNIPASS does not have data on cars coming from Japan for instance – which is why a vehicle that cost GH¢12,000 to clear on the GCNET/West Blue platform now clears for GH¢6,000 on a very manual UNIPASS. Better still, when UNIPASS attempts to use its quack electronic platform, a 2016 model Chevrolet could be processed for GH¢14.”
Clearing agents, according to the statement, are reportedly being begged to manually pay the difference in expected values/ prices/ taxes on goods poorly assessed by UNIPASS.
According to him, it even takes more than a week to manually clear a single vehicle. “Imagine the loss in revenues during a pandemic era. Revenues are down by 30% in Takoradi. Tema is incalculable. Imagine the impact on our neighbouring landlocked countries that rely on our ports; imagine the cascading impact on warehousing of goods, tracking and retail prices for ordinary consumers like us,” the statement added.
He therefore appealed for government to as a matter of urgency temporarily suspend operations of UNI-PASS and allow GCNET and West Blue to operate for the remainder of the year in order to assure the nation of revenues – most likely GH¢10bn given depressed trade activity due to COVID-19.