Clearing of goods and payment of duty at the Tema Port have been disrupted for two consecutive days due to the shutdown of the Ghana Community Service Network Limited (GCNet) system.Clearing agents and importers who visited the Ghana Customs management system on Tuesday and Wednesday to process their declarations to enable them to pay duty and clear goods could not do so due to the shutdown.
The notice “as part of government directive you cannot use the GCNet system, go to the Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS)”, had been conspicuously posted at the entrance of the port.
Currently, an importer or declarant utilizes the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAARS), provided by West Blue Consulting Services Limited and the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS), jointly operated by the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and GCNet that is the Ghana integrated cargo clearance system to process documentation, pay duty and clear goods from the port and entry points.
The government has sought to replace the existing cargo clearance system with a new single window (end to end) customs administration system UNIPASS (ICUMS) which was scheduled to start operations at the Tema Port Tuesday.
UNIPASS is also a public-private partnership between the government and the Ghana Link Network Services, which is a partnership with the Customs UNIPASS International Agency (CUPIA) of Korea, and the team is expected to provide unimpeded international commerce through the ports and entry points.
UNIPASS will operate the ICUMS estimated to process about 2,000 import declarations daily.
The development virtually brought clearing activities at the Tema Port to a halt, as customs officers were seen sitting idly at post while clearing agents and importers went about complaining about the mishap.
A worried importer said he travelled from Kumasi to the harbour city to clear his goods but realized it was not possible due to the impasse.
He said no serious country would shut such an important system without giving prior notice to clients.
“Are we really serious about creating an enabling environment to facilitate trade?” he asked
It is however not clear whether the action taken by GCNet was calculated to destabilize the smooth deployment of the UNIPASS ICUMS which was planned to roll out in Tema and other entry points the same day.
A statement released by GRA on Monday, April 27 and signed by Acting Commissioner General, Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah said effective 28th April 2020 and until 31st May 2020 all transactions in respect of import-export manifest can be processed through either Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) or Ghana Customs management system for the Tema Port as well as other entry points.
The statement distributed to relevant stakeholders including shipping lines, GCNet, West Blue and associations of custom house agents, further stated that with effect from first June 2020 all-new transactions without exception in respect of import and export shall only be processed through the ICUMS.
It, however, noted that all existing transactions commencing prior to the 31st of May 2020, for which processing have not been completed in the GCMS before or after payment of duty shall be reprocessed through the ICUMS.
The President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, Edward Akrong, told the ‘Ghanaian Times’ on the telephone that to be able to do any declaration the manifest from the ship that brought in the cargo must be loaded on the cargo clearance system in use but Tuesday morning when clearing agents went to work they realised they could not access the GCNet system, meanwhile the previous manifests they were working on had not been loaded on the ICUMS either.
“If ICUMS was really supposed to start Tuesday then those manifests should have been loaded on it for us to process our documents,” he said.
He said an earlier communication from GRA indicated that the GCNet system would be available till May 15, 2020 but on April 27 another statement released by GRA extended that to May 31.
“We however do not know whether GCNet did not receive a copy of the statement.”
Chairman for Concerned Freight Forwarders, Oheneba Kwasi Afariwua, shared a similar sentiment, he said when he went to the Meridian Port Services on Tuesday, customs officials were sitting down idle and clearing agents were complaining that they could not access the GCNet system.
“I subsequently placed calls to the airport and Elubo and the story was not different,” he said.
Mr Afariwua said they had suggested that the GCNet and Westblue is allowed to work alongside the ICUMS pilot nationwide for about a month or so to enable teething problems identified and resolved and the issue at hand was a confirmation of their fears.
When contacted the Public Relations Officer of the Customs Division of the GRA at the Tema Collection, Nunya Amedonoo, said senior officers of the division, top management of GRA, Ministry of Trade and Industry officials were meeting with officials of GCNet in Accra to resolve the impasse.