Freight Forwarders lament clearance delays at ports

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The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) has described as unacceptable and frustrating the challenges of the paperless ports clearing system under the management of Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) that have contributed to avoidable delays in cargo clearing.

“We have gone back to the situation of printing all documents. There are no SLAs (service level agreements) with which one can define how long the clearance process is supposed to take. It has become normal to clear vehicles within a five-week window which is totally unacceptable,” GIFF noted in a statement.

It said, unlike the recent past where the paperless port system aided the ease of doing business and trade facilitation to enable cargo clearance within four (4) hours at the ports, the current situation is heavily reliant on printed hard copy documents which members of the trading community carry in hand from one point to the other and even sometimes to places outside the ports environment just in a quest to get their cargo cleared.

GIFF pointed out that under ICUMS, aside from the non-existence of the paperless ports system, there are several major problems with the Vehicle Valuation Calculus Tool, Manifest matching, post entries, call center, Default freight station, long delays in clearance of goods and several other aspects of the cargo clearing chain of activities.

Photo: President of Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Mr. Edward Akron

The challenges were pointed out in a document compiled by GIFF and presented to the government to seek urgent intervention to the continuous nature of the ICUMS challenges. The paper pointed out that the long delays in clearance of goods at the port lead to an accrued interest charge, state warehouse rent and demurrage through no fault of the forwarder.

However, the forwarder is the one that gets charged extra fees because of the delays caused by ICUMS. GIFF suggested that the government should reconsider taking off or extending the period for which interest charge and state warehouse rent is paid or calculated and also extending the 60-day moratorium on the clearance of vehicles.

On the challenge at the Call Center, GIFF said: “The Call Centre has virtually become non-productive as Agents move from the GPHA towers to the Customs Long Room in search of solutions to problems. This cannot be normal. It only points to inadequate training, systemic challenges, non-user friendliness of the system and that the business processes in the system have not been properly mapped.”

GIFF pointed out further challenges under ICUMS: “Declarants are unable to determine prior to the arrival of vehicles, the duty involved in the clearance of vehicles. Clarity should be brought to bear on values of vehicles due to the nature of vehicle valuation so equity will prevail.

“Another major calculus problem is that of declarations with duty exempt status. The tax base amount for VAT in these situations is flawed and this has led to improper duty payments which will give rise to future litigation and refund requests.

“Declaration created an assessment accepted by Declarant A can as well be created with the same Bill of Lading by Declarant B without any red flags by the system. Declarants can have e-Dos, electronically request for service and complete payment and yet won’t have the name of examination officer.”

GIFF also explained that there are delays in physically receiving cargo: “Cargo can be gated out of MPS Terminal 3, Carried-In and Gate-In confirmed at GJT, and subsequently allow for a successful manifest matching, and yet cargo is physically not received at GJT until after about four days’ time.

“Fees like interest charge, SWH (state warehouse rent) are neither user nor system defined. One will then have to resort to a remark in the system by Officers to go back to the Accounts section for further issuance of tax bills for these payments. It is interesting to note that these tax bills do not actually state the reason for the payment. It should also be noted that these time-bound fees become automatic if acceptance and valuation of declarations stay for more than 2 weeks.”

Members of the trading community and relevant stakeholders have raised several complaints, protests and not stopped grumbling over how trade facilitation, cargo clearance and related activities have been handed by ICUMS.

In a recent petition to the Office of the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, GIFF pleaded that the challenges should be taken seriously and addressed with a sense of urgency as the Institute was bending over backwards to calm down its members that have been overly frustrated and have run out of patience.

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