Continued deployment of challenged UNIPASS system causing gov’t massive revenue losses


For a nation that is currently bleeding billions in Ghana cedis as a result of COVID-19, it is surprising that government is still pushing ahead with the complete rollout of Ghana Link Services’ Integrated Customs Management Systems (ICUMS), otherwise known as UNIPASS.

Since its piloting at the Takoradi Port, importers especially have complained about their challenges with clearing goods. Despite these challenges, government still went ahead with a total nationwide rollout at all ports including land, sea and air – with the Senior Minister’s office releasing a statement trying to allay fears.

Since the failed nationwide rollout, GCNet and Westblue Consulting are back at the ports, albeit on an interim bassis. Importers, who couldn’t clear their goods due to the problems with the UNIPASS system, have now asked government to absorb the demurrage accrued over the two days of challenges since it is no fault of theirs that they were unable to clear their goods.

This is where the problem lies.

Since COVID-19 was detected in Ghana on March 12, the price of crude has collapsed on the world market, and thousands of businesses have ceased operations – with some collapsing in the process. The entire tourism and hospitality industry has ground to a complete halt. Schools and churches, which create good and stable employment, have remained closed.

The Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, has said the virus will cost Ghana at least GH¢9.5billion – representing 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and taking the economy to the brink of a recession, a first since 1983. Even as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other partners are filling up some of the holes in the budget, it beggars belief that government is pushing through a system that is denying the government revenue.

To listen to government officials including the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah, say importers and port workers should have faith in the UNIPASS and give it time to fix its teething problems is a big worry when there is already a tried and tested system in place pushing a paperless agenda.

“This is proper paperless. You will not hold a single paper. Even with the banks, you will have to pay online,” Mr. Ahenkorah said, only for importers and freight forwarders to now be seen using papers and going through manual process to clear goods in Takoradi a couple of weeks ago.

In truth, this is not the time to have patience for a new system. With the challenges being faced as a result of COVID-19, Imani Africa, the policy think-tank, in a petition to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo believes the GH¢33million average daily revenue loss due to current challenges with UNIPASS should not be encouraged.

“This is not the time to be playing games with the most significant revenue-earner for the country. Temporarily suspend operations of UNIPASS 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¢10billion given depressed trade activity due to COVID-19,” Imani said in the April 21 petition.

The petition noted that the current challenges with the ICUMS, especially at Takoradi Port – “are likely to derail gains made in the enhanced paperless system that propelled an increase in port revenues from GH¢8billion in 2016 to a little over GH¢13billion in 2017 and 2018, working with West Blue and GCNet port technologies. It is likely to detract from the assured average daily revenues of almost GH¢33million and ultimately jeopardise the flow of trade”.

Demonstration in Takoradi

Clearing agents, clearly fed up due to the challenges faced in clearing goods at Takoradi Port, have embarked on a mini-demonstration to express their frustrations. The agents cited delay in clearing goods as the main reason for their demonstration.

If government itself is refusing to see the losses to its revenues, at least the clearing agents have seen the losses in revenues to their pockets and those of their clients whose goods are accruing avoidable charges.

In times like these, it is prudent to stick to the statutes and ride the COVID-19 storm – and when the world is back to default setting and revenues from other sources such as taxes, grants and others are flowing, then government can take all the time it needs to do trial and error at the ports. But for now, just bring back GCNet and Westblue till COVID-19 is over so that the small revenue we can get will flow in without interruption.

>>>written by a concerned citizen, not a spectator

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