Ebenezer Ashley’s thoughts on the Role of the UNIPASS system in national revenue mobilization

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Contrary to the stance and expectations of some stakeholders in the import and export business; and some civil society groups, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Monday, 27th April, 2020 announced the implementation of the newly integrated UNIPASS/Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) at the Tema Port and other ports of entry across the country.

The implementation took effect from Tuesday, 28th April, 2020. The UNIPASS/ICUMS replaces the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) ran collectively by the Ghana Community Network Services commonly called GcNet and Customs World of Dubai, formerly known as West Blue Consult.

The imminent question is, why has the GRA resorted to the implementation of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform in spite of strong opposition by some key stakeholders in the import and export business? The ensuing explanations address the foregoing and other questions related to the newly integrated UNIPASS/ICUMS platform.
Unique Features
The UNIPASS/ICUMS platform has a set of features that accentuate its acceptance and implementation over the GCMS. First, UNIPASS/ICUMS has a stand-by human resource management model that facilitates identification of officers who worked on given cargos and the time during which the work was carried out and completed. Second, tracing missing cargos or goods under the novel UNIPASS/ICUMS platform is very simple. Finally, UNIPASS/ICUMS has an exclusive tracking device for all cargos. This helps to identify each cargo using a unique reference number.

Revenue Mobilization
The revenue mobilization trend of the GRA through the implementation of the Ghana Customs Management System in recent years revealed respective monthly minimum and maximum revenue collections of GH¢800 million and GH¢1.2 billion. The average monthly revenue collection under the Ghana Customs Management System was estimated at GH¢940 million. To reiterate, the GCMS was ran collectively by GcNet and Customs World of Dubai in collaboration with the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority. However, implementation of the UNIPASS/ICUMS is envisaged to result in more revenue mobilization than was realized through the GCMS.

This assertion is corroborated by the mobilization of GH¢490 million within seventeen (17) days of the implementation of the UNIPASS system; and realization of GH¢1.2 billion at the end of June 2020. Full implementation of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform took effect from 1st June, 2020. Proponents of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform argue, if in the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the GRA was able to rake-in GH¢1.2 billion within one month (that is, from 1st through 30th June, 2020), the country stands to benefit a great deal from its full implementation in post-COVID-19 period.

Benefits
Characteristic of novel systems, implementation of the UNIPASS/ICUMS at the outset was fraught with challenges. This notwithstanding, economic benefits of its implementation in the immediate-, medium- and long-term are expected to be phenomenal. The UNIPASS/ICUMS has an end-to-end system which does not allow operators to tamper with figures on it.

This feature was not prevalent under the GCMS; operators of the latter system could tamper with figures entered there-in. The digital nature of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform allows it to fit into the digitisation programme and paperless system of the President Nana Akufo-Addo-led administration. The novel system was introduced to provide swift customs clearance, seal the leaking national revenue basket, and to facilitate trade at the country’s ports and borders.

Under the old GCMS, valuation and classification as well as risk management and payment were carried out by different entities. This created room for revenue leakages and undue delays in the cargo clearance process at the ports. Under the new UNIPASS/ICUMS platform, the foregoing processes are completed through a single window. Indeed, the novel system is intended to present comprehensive and easy-to-use digital customs system to the Ghanaian market, without compromising international standards. It is perceived by many analysts as the long-awaited “Messiah” of Ghana’s leaking revenue basket.

System Credibility

As noted earlier, the UNIPASS/ICUMS was introduced to replace the GCMS. Services related to the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform are to be provided to the Ghanaian economy by the Customs UNIPASS International Agency (CUPIA), a South Korean organisation established in 2006 to provide customs modernisation consulting services; and to develop and operate e-customs and single window systems in economies across the globe. The effectiveness and credibility of CUPIA’s system at the global level are evident in the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. The former is constantly ranked among the top ten in the trading across borders criteria. The strong impact of UNIPASS/ICUMS on economies across the globe cannot be overemphasised; the system has the potential to transfer economic growth to the Ghanaian economy; and to enhance the country’s chances of improving on her Ease of Doing Business rankings instituted by the World Bank Group.

Conclusion
Total domestic revenue for the first quarter of 2020 was estimated at GH¢10.0336 billion. This represented about 2.6% of projected gross domestic product (GDP) for 2020, and about 25.9% lower than the targeted revenue of GH¢13.5416 billion (3.5% of projected GDP) during the period. The obvious revenue underperformance during the first quarter was a reflection of shortfalls in non-tax and tax revenues. Consequently, introduction of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform is expected to mitigate shortfalls in tax revenue collection; and to close the relatively wide fiscal gap created by massive expenditure in the area of health, and on the collective fight against the menacing COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped challenges associated with effective implementation of the UNIPASS/ICUMS platform would be addressed, so freight forwarders and other key stakeholders in the export and import business could derive maximum benefit while contributing meaningfully to the national revenue mobilization drive.

The writer is a Chartered Economist/Financial Consultant

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