Policy think-tank IMANI Africa has questioned why the ministries of Trade and Industry and Finance are bent on replacing the existing reliable Customs and ports technologies with UNIPASS—an expensive and untested ports valuation system.
“Our advice to government would be to shelve UNIPASS until its promoters have demonstrated value far and above existing systems. It is not even smart to undertake such a major valueless project with potential to severely disrupt trade and revenue flows,” IMANI Africa indicated in its advisory letter to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The think-tank also questioned: “Given that the two systems, WestBlue and GCNet, took two years to integrate and work cohesively, we wonder how long the transition period would be for UNIPASS, whose credentials in the space are still unknown, to integrate the existing system – if it’s at all necessary?
The existing paperless system at the ports – run by WestBlue Consulting Limited and GCNet – has not only resulted in increased revenues for the state but also positioned the country as a major trade facilitator across the sub-region.
Records from the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) show that port revenue has risen steadily from GH¢7.5billion in 2015 to GH¢12.01billion since introduction of the National Single Window or the Paperless Port regime.
Last year, proceeds from the port moved up by 15 percent over that of the previous year – even after a reduction in benchmark values on imported vehicles and general goods by 35 percent and 50 percent respectively.
In March 2018, Ghana Link Network Services Limited in collaboration with Customs UNIPASS International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea Customs Services was contracted by the Trade Ministry to introduce UNIPASS into the ports system for ten years at a cost of US$40m.
The deal was however suspended prior to take-off by the Economic Management Team (EMT), due to the promoters’ inability to demonstrate their technology’s superior value and integrity as well as a unanimous rejection by port users.
IMANI Africa noted that: “The Economic Management Team (EMT) in December 2018 examined the implications from adopting UNIPASS on the turnaround times and costs to users and government. After listening to all major ports stakeholders, the EMT suspended implementation of UNIPASS until August 2019 due to the inability of its promoters to demonstrate their technology’s superior value and integrity.
“In spite of media reports that Cabinet had approved the UNIPASS deal just a month after the EMT’s directive for an 8-month suspension, there has been no change in the factors which suspended UNIPASS. However, its promoters and assigns are erecting valuation equipment at some of our borders alongside those of the more reliable GCNet (remember, government owns 35% of GCNet).
The policy think-tank is also concerned about the financial implications of the UNIPASS deal on the economy in terms of judgment debt.
“It appears government would not be worried paying judgment debts to GCNet and West Blue for simply cancelling their more reliable, tested, efficient and less expensive systems. In fact, UNIPASS has been sued by West Blue for intellectual property breaches – essentially, copying their software illegally.”