Free Zones Authority strategises to serve industry better

The Ghana Free Zones Authority (GFZA), a government agency that licences and regulates the activities of Free Zone Enterprises (FZEs), has said it has adopted some workable strategies which are already being implemented.

The primary objective is to change the face of GFZB in the eyes of its valued investors: by creating autonomous offices, enhancing the quality of service delivery, and introducing speed as a business strategy to improve on quality of service delivery.

The authority is improving licence application processes, exemption application processes, visa applications and renewal processes, as well as vehicle registration processes.

It is also employing more staff – who are being trained to provide quality service to licenced free zone enterprises and potential investors.

Also, the authority’s management is embarking on study-tours of other free zone authorities to study their systems; to enable it benchmark its services against those of other countries and also enhance service delivery to all Free Zone Enterprises.

A research and business development unit has also been created to do market intelligence and source new markets for companies that wish to venture into new opportunities and not rely on one traditional market.

The unit will also be responsible for reviewing proposals for new businesses and expansion by existing FZEs.

To enable the unit have some insight into what the GFZA can do to assist member enterprises, research is being conducted and questionnaires have been distributed to some free zone enterprises.

The CEOs of FZEs have therefore been implored to assist the authority in filling out the questionnaires to help it come up with policies and strategies that will be beneficial to their operations as free zone enterprises.

A new Monitoring Unit has also been set up to monitor activities of free zone enterprises. The unit will be more or less the policing-wing of the Secretariat, to ensure that FZEs’ operations are doing well and CEOs are consciously meeting all the obligations.

The policing mandate of the unit will also enable it identify problems faced by free zone enterprises for quick resolution.

The IT Unit of the Ghana Free Zones Authority has also been made more robust, and expanded into a Management Information Systems (MIS) department. It is being worked on to create the needed platforms for implementing a paperless system and ensure that most of the documents, such as quarterly returns, can be submitted online.

Furthermore, an immigration desk has been set up to take care of all immigration-related issues for expatriates; and emergency visas will be issued within seven days of submitting an application.

At a forum with CEOs of licenced free zone enterprises and other businesses in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and Northern Regions in Kumasi, Executive Secretary of the authority, Michael Okyere Baafi, said management has had a meeting with the Ghana Immigration Service and all modalities have been put in place to achieve the seven-day timeline.

The forum, which was on the theme ‘Resolving Challenges for Business Growth’, was attended by business owners whose businesses are related to export and import as well as foreign investors whose business operations fall under the Free Zones Enterprise bracket.

Also in attendance were representatives of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Ghana Immigration Service and Environmental Protection Agency.

The Executive Secretary raised concern over the fact that some free zone enterprises are selling more than the stipulated 30 percent of their products on the local market, while they fail to submit their quarterly reports and audited financial statements to the authority as required by law.

The quarterly reports are expected to be submitted within a month after end of the quarter, and audited accounts within the first quarter of the ensuing year.

He added that this failure to submit quarterly returns and misrepresentation of information is affecting the GFZA’s reporting to government.

Most of the companies, he said, also owe ground rent – and some have not renewed their licences, which has greatly affected the GFZA’s finances.

In this regard, a schedule of new tariffs and other charges has been instituted – and already been circulated to all free zones enterprises.