UNIPASS Ghana’s best bet in deploying a single window – Ghana Link

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Ghana Link Network Services has taken note of current debates on the Integrated Customs Management Systems ICUMS, which some also refer to as UNIPASS Ghana. But first, we want to put it on record that this new all-in-one Customs management solution is government-owned – as the Ghana Revenue Authority, GRA, has consistently put out.

Over the period many questions have been raised, and we at Ghana Link want to use this opportunity to answer some of those questions.

This is because we aim to also open up to the media, engaging all stakeholders at this point to clear the misconceptions and negative information regarding the ICUMS/UNIPASS that the Ghana Revenue Authority, GRA, has deployed at our frontiers.

It’s important to state that the system is live at our borders and at Takoradi Port; we are currently only waiting to deploy at KIA and Tema Port.

To begin with, let’s look at the first question that is bothering the minds of many;

Is the US$93million abrogation term in the UNIPASS deal a sustainable and advantageous investment worth taking?

First to define TVM – the time value of money (TVM) is the concept that money you have now is worth more than the identical sum in the future due to its potential earning capacity. This core principle of finance holds that provided money can earn interest, any amount of money is worth more the sooner it is received.

Having said this, assuming 40 million dollars was the principal that was invested in this contract, and bearing in mind that contract was signed almost 2 years ago, we will all admit that if this money was invested elsewhere it would have earned some interest by now. Also its important to note that the contract implementation cost has not been stated there, but Ghana Link has spent money in implementing the project.

I am sure by now you understand that, the US$93million abrogation term in the UNIPASS deal is indeed a sustainable and advantageous investment worth taking by government. This is because one must alert our minds to damages which must be paid if a contract ought to be abrogated. The net cash flow expected during the period of the contract is looked at during the time of termination, and that is what one must pay for.

Is the UNIPASS deal more expensive than the existing vendors’?

Vendors Cost +Insurance +Freight

CIF

Free On Board

FOB

West Blue – CCVR 0.28% 0.32% (0.28% * 1.15)
SML Fees – External Price Verification Fees 0.17% 0.195% (0.17% * 1.15)
GCNET   0.40%
Total Fees Charges by West Blue, SML and GCNET   0.92%
UNIPASS fees   0.75%

The above table gives you an idea on cost to government comparing the vendors providing the trade facilitation. It is important to note that with UNIPASS or the ICUMS, government gets to save about 0.17% on FOB.

Another question that has come up is: If such an investment is even considered worth taking, why are the top government officials – widely speculated by the media to have pushed the UNIPASS deal through – failing to educate stakeholders at the Ghana ports on the importance of rolling out such a deal?

I am sure we have heard many times in interviews – which I even conducted when I was in mainstream media – that education has been done several times.

All stakeholders, including freight forwarders and importers, have been trained and training is still ongoing.

It’s untrue to say we have failed to educate stakeholders at the Ghana ports on the importance of rolling out such a deal?  But let me state here and now that training is not an event but a continuous process, which we will not finish even after the full roll out for the freight forwarders and all other stakeholders.

But the question one may ask is: when speaking of a single window at the ports, can we say we have that now?

Yes, we do with the introduction of the ICUMS.  The government of Ghana in its commitment to ensure value for money and an end to end single window system signed an agreement with Korea Customs through it partners here in Ghana, Ghana Link Network Services Limited, to deploy ICUMS/UNIPASS (a single entry)-  i.e. UNI (Unified, Universal or Unique), PASS (to clear-fast and efficient service) that serves all purposes in trade (goods) and travel (passengers).

It is a modern and world-class technology acknowledged by international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Customs Organisation (WCO), The World Bank, and World Economic Forum (WEF), that is used to facilitate trade, ensure supply chain security and increase revenue.

UNIPASS is the only technology in the area of trade facilitation, security/safety and revenue mobilisation developed by a Customs agency aimed at solving Customs and trade-related issues. Hence, it is a tailor-measured technology.

Why has UNIPASS failed immensely in piloting such a system?

There is nowhere in the world that a government will allow for such a system to be deployed without piloting it. Indeed, we acknowledge that implementing a national single window system will not happen without challenges.

But what is important is that, while these challenges emerge, the rate at which one resolves them is what is important; and Ghana Link and its partners have been very swift to resolve all the challenges which have been raised with the system.

The ICUMS or the UNIPASS system which is currently deployed at the various frontiers was piloted at Aflao and Elubo, with Takoradi having simulations and stress-tests before take-off in April 1, 2020.

The UNIPASS offers importers and exporters an integrated system of filing all documents, and helps businesses to send information regarding consignments simultaneously to each agency concerned for swift responses in trade facilitation.

Was UNIPASS able to learn from their failed piloting system and come up with a better one?

The technology has been built to suit the needs of Ghana. The system was developed with the client’s needs from scratch. After expiration of the contract, the whole system and its infrastructure will be handed over to government – as by that time the Customs Division of the GRA officials would have been trained and be ready to man the system.

To this end, a state of the art data centre was built and is housed at the Ministry of Finance premises in Accra.

UNIPASS is a comprehensive clearance system that not only works to facilitate trade but also ensures that every pesewa is collected, and compliant and risk-free passengers are given special processing. The system also works to ensure national security and safety.

It prevents harmful goods such as narcotics, guns and explosives, from entering or exiting the country. It is also the only system built to prevent the importation of unsafe and fake goods.  UNIPASS is internationally recognised for protection of intellectual property (IPR). This is critical for Ghana, especially as we are about to set up many factories.

For example, in 2006 UNIPASS received an award from the World Customs Organisation, WCO, for being able to protect intellectual property.  It is an all encompassing system that goes beyond import and export regimes of Customs, covering all Customs regimes such as warehousing, free zones, transhipment, transit etc.

Other countries such as Dubai Customs also focus on transhipments. This fact is contained in the WCO news (2016) which recognised “transhipments as a regime applied to a significant number of consignments flowing through Dubai and the UAE” (p.66). This regime does not earn revenue for a country.  Because of the revenue-focused nature of UNIPASS it has a valuation data warehouse – which is the prerequisite for proper valuation and revenue collection.

Has the ongoing record of Ghana Link in Sierra Leone served as an enhanced notice if UNIPASS is to go ahead with their system at the Ghana ports?

Let’s set the records straight, that Ghana Link/COPIA is not and has never been in Sierra Leone to implement a UNIPASS single window system as is being speculated. UNIPASS or the ICUMS system has only been deployed in Ghana.

It is a known fact the African Link Inspection Company (ALIC) is an affiliate company of Ghana Link.

ALIC was contracted in 2012 by the Sierra Leonean government to deploy a destination inspection scheme and not a single window, and this we have been doing in the last 8 years.

What is the unexpected benefit of the ICUMS/UNIPASS deal?

The introduction of ICUMS/UNIPASS gives you a one-stop service for all trade activities at the country’s frontiers and ports for all Customs and trade clearance processes. In Ghana, UNIPASS is going to fully integrates all government agencies that have an interest in trade, revenue management and statistical purposes among others. This enables the sharing of timely information among regulatory agencies, stakeholders (such as those mandated by government to perform special tasks) and Customs. Regulatory information sharing goes beyond the issuance of permits to include information for statistical analysis and decision-making.

The UNI-PASS system cannot be duplicated without authorisation from the office of the GRA Commissioner and the Finance Minister, who hold the patent and trade mark rights of the system.

Through the clearance management system, all Customs business will be conducted in a paperless environment. When ICUMS/UNIPASS is fully deployed, export will take 1.5 minutes (one point five minutes) and import takes 1.5 hours (one point five hours). This is the current standard in Korea.

Real-time cargo tracking management through the cargo management system (CMS)

 By using this sub-system, UNIPASS is able to collect bills of lading from shipping companies, airlines, agents, and assign a cargo-tracking number to each consignment. The Cargo Management System is connected to delivery companies, warehouses and other private entities moving goods. It allows Customs officers and traders to access information on the process, as well as the status of the cargo at each stage, stating the time, the Customs officer in charge, and the location of the cargo, including access to the manifest, the Customs declaration, and other documents required during the clearance procedure. Moreover, the time it takes to deliver or clear goods is also measured in order to avoid logistics issues, such as bottlenecks.

Effective passenger clearance through the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS)

The APIS on the UNIPASS uses various data such as passenger lists, reservation data and entry/exit history to analyse risks prior to the arrival of travellers, so that high-risk travellers may be selected and controlled while ordinary travellers can swiftly clear their goods or personal items. Fifty million travellers are screened every year through APIS in order to prevent any harmful goods, such as narcotics, guns and explosives, from entering or exiting the country.

Finally, to conclude I would say many developing countries, especially those in need of revenue from cross-border traders, as well as facilitating trade across their borders ensure security and transact business in a transparent, efficient and less costly manner, have always made UNIPASS their best ally.

UNIPASS technology is used by many countries around the world and is fully operational in these countries: Ecuador, Nepal, Mongolia, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Dominican Republic and Uzbekistan.

In Africa, Tanzania and Cameroun have adopted the UNIPASS. It is operational in Tanzania but yet to be fully deployed in Cameroun. In Tanzania, the introduction of UNIPASS (called TANCIS) in 2012 led to revenue increase – 390 million US$ (2013), 495 million US$ (2014) and 651 million US$ (2015).  Ecuador implemented UNIPASS model (ECUPASS) in 2011. In 2012, they collected revenue of 3.5 billion US$; 3.7 billion (2014) and 3.9 billion (2015). ECUPASS also won a WCO Innovation award at a Technology Innovation forum in Argentina in 2013 (KCS, 2016)

Between June 2015 and December 2015, Korean Customs conducted a feasibility study to improve Ghana’s port clearance system so as to improve revenue collection and facilitate trade.

After this report was issued, the government of Ghana sent Customs officials to Korea to understudy what they have. This led to the development of a comprehensive report, which is what the government of Ghana adopted and got COPIA to develop the tailor-made system known as the ICUMS/UNIPASS.

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