Customs timeliness study initiative poised to eliminate insufficiency in clearance

Veronica Aboagye (far left), Kennedy Mornah (left middle), Diana Ayorkor Agbenyega (right middle) and Smile Agbemenu (far right) during Eye on Port discussion

The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority has introduced a Time Release Study aimed at assessing the average time goods in customs charge are cleared at the various ports and frontiers of Ghana. It is also intended to serve as a benchmark on which future studies will be conducted. The overall objective of the study is to identify and eliminate bottlenecks within the clearance chain so as to facilitate international trade.

The study which began in September 2022 was completed and announced in the first quarter of 2024. It was technically supported by the World Customs Organization and funded by donor agencies such as USAID.

The study was conducted at the Tema Port, Kotoka International Airport, and Aflao and Paga borders to represent imports and exports for domestic consumption, transit trade and petty trading across borders.

At the Port of Tema, the study was conducted at three key operational areas, namely, MPS terminal 3, Golden Jubilee and Safebond Car terminal reflecting the nature of cargo and processes done there.

According to the findings, it takes on average ten days, twenty one hours and 17 minutes to release cargo from customs control after berthing. However, the average time at MPS was 8 days, 8 hours and 14 minutes. On the other hand, the average time goods were cleared at Golden Jubilee and Safebond Car Terminal was 14 days, 4 hours and 9 minutes. In isolated cases, it took a maximum of 53 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes and a minimum of 17 hours and 5 minutes for cargo to be released after berthing.

Speaking to Kennedy Mornah on Eye on Port, customs officials in charge of the project explained the disparities that emerged from the study.

A Chief Revenue Officer, Smile Agbemenu disclosed that several factors impact the time spent in clearing of goods and this is not tied to one particular entity in the clearance chain.

On the part of declarants, failure or delay in pre-arrival processes such as payment of duties and completion of permit application processes may result in delayed clearance time.

These licenses, permits and certificates issued by other state authorities in the clearance chain such as Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Standards Authority, Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Departments, could take weeks to acquire, hence, delays in application will result in delays in clearance.

Again, depending to the nature of cargo coming in, customs’ risk management system could flag goods as highly suspicious rendering them to go through intrusive inspection which can cause some significant delays.

Moreover, when cargo-carrying vessels berth at the dedicated container terminal at MPS, cargos required to undergo intrusive inspection and devanning are transferred to the Golden Jubilee terminal which takes some time contributing to the time period for clearing.

Mr. Agbemenu, who is the Technical Chairman for the Time Release Study Project did not deny the part some customs officials play in delaying cargo clearance stating that the study took into consideration necessary mitigating measures to address bottlenecks coming from all parties.

“So the aspect where delays came from Customs has been revealed in the report. The aspects where delayed came from other government agencies have also been identified and revealed in the report. Where it is from the private sector has also been identified in the report and the recommendations for us to improve on all these service deliveries have also been identified,” he said.

This admission was corroborated by his colleague Diana Ayorkor Agbenyega, the Project Manager for the Time Release Study.

“We are moving into that stage where we’ll begin to implement the recommendations in the action plan. For our officers we’ve identified that we actually need to do training.  We also want to train custom house agents and we want to do public education for the trading public to let them understand why they do not have to wait days after cargo arrives to put in their declaration,” she stated.

The Chief Revenue Officer opined that despite the Vice President’s ambitious 4-hour target may not be attainable immediately, she is looking forward to the average time for clearing of imports at the Tema Port to be under 3 days.

She said due to the comprehensive end-to-end nature of the Integrated Customs Management System it was easy to establish the time stamps that aided the study.

She re-emphasized the importance of this time release study which establishes the baseline data for clearing of goods, indicating her outfit’s resolve to follow through with action plans and recommendations. She said the GRA is hopeful to conduct further studies in future.

Chief Revenue Officer, Veronica Aboagye, who is the Stakeholder Manager for the project, acknowledged that without the cooperation and assistance from stakeholders in the clearance chain, the study would not have been successful.

She indicated that Tema was chosen to represent the sea ports because Tema takes care of about 70% of maritime cargo whereas the largest chunk of transit cargo goes through Paga and majority of petty trading across borders is done at Aflao.

“Tema was chosen over Takoradi because of the volume. Tema takes care of about 70% of the import that comes so it was right for us to choose Tema. Tema and Takoradi are brothers they have similarities, so whatever happens in Tema automatically the same thing will also happen in Takoradi” she explained.

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