Probe Uni-Pass deal—IMANI petitions Parliament

Policy think-tank IMANI has petitioned the Speaker of Parliament to institute a probe into the 10-year Uni-Pass contract signed between the Ministry of Trade and Ghana Link  Network Services Limited—in collaboration with their foreign partners Customs Uni-Pass International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea Customs Services—to introduce Uni-Pass to the ports system.

The request for a Parliamentary enquiry into the Uni-Pass deal, according to IMANI, is to “prevent disruption to Ghana’s progress on trade facilitation”.

The letter dated December 14, 2018 and signed by the Founding President of the think-tank, Franklin Cudjoe said: “Since June 2018, IMANI has sent a number of letters with questions about this contract and how it will be implemented, with no answers given by government. It has become even more important that there these questions are answered given that Uni-Pass is due to start implementation in January 2019”.

The Trade Ministry signed the 10-year deal with Uni-Pass in March 2018 to provide single window services at the country’s ports, although two existing companies – GCNet and Customs World (West Blue) – currently operate the nation’s existing single window system.

After hundreds of hours working to perfect the system and boosting government’s revenue through blocking leakages, Uni-Pass is scheduled to take over the single window operations in January 2019 even though the existing operators still have running contracts. IMANI, in the petition, questions the appropriateness of this decision and seeks answers.

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“The GCNet contract ends in 2023 while the West Blue contract expires in 2020. This means that there are still about 5 and 2 more years respectively for them to operate the single window system. Is government going to abrogate these contracts, and at what cost? If government does not intend to abrogate these contracts, how will all three companies operate on the single window platform? What is the implication for trade facilitation?” IMANI said in the petition addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye.

Another pertinent issue that the policy think-thank wants probed is the appropriateness of the Ministry of Trade and Industry signing a deal that clearly falls under the purview of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), under the Customs Amendment Act, 2016.

“The Customs (Amendment) Act, 2016 (Act 923) amending the Principal Act clearly points the direction of where the National Single Window is established – effectively curing all elements of doubt that might have lingered on in the past as to ownership of the project. With this knowledge, why is the Trade Ministry signing agreements on this subject when a subsection of the quoted Act clearly states the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) is the one to manage the National Single Window System?”

Potential port disruptions

Clearing and export of goods through the country’s seaports is expected to impacted adversely beginning January 1, 2019, if the existing single window system jointly operated by GCNet and Customs World Dubai (West Blue) is unplugged for the Uni-Pass system to be installed.

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Stakeholders that the B&FT contacted indicated they not been properly briefed about the deal and the new system.

Another big challenge is the training of Customs officials on how to operate the new system; training for stakeholders to understand how the new system works; and the errors which come with operating such a new system before it reaches it smooth operating level after some years.

Higher Charges

The takeover of single window operations from Customs World (WestBlue Consulting) and GCNet will cost taxpayers more money.

Ghana Link with its overseas partner CUPIA Korea Customs Service will provide the trade facilitation and Customs Management System at a 0.75 percent fee (FOB) per their 10-year sole sourced contract with the Ministry of Trade.

This figure is far higher than what the existing vendors, West Blue and GCNet, are currently receiving as a fee.

West Blue Consulting with its overseas partner, Customs World Dubai currently earns 0.28 percent, while GCNet earns 0.4 percent.

So, the two existing vendors providing single window operations in Ghana are together taking 0.68 percent, which is far below what UNIPASS is going to take (0.75 percent).

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