Paperless ports: The journey so far
Ghana’s ports on 1st September embarked on a paperless transaction in the clearance process, following the directive by the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia.
1st September was a holiday and the delivery units at the port which required clearance transactions did not function.
This meant that the full functionality of the system could not be put to test as a result of the absence of the usual traffic that characterises business transactions at the port.
But officials of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) said the ship side of port operations was functional on Friday and that two people made online requests which the operational team was able to respond to and serve appropriately.
Saturday, September 2 was also a weekend and the revenue centre at the Tema Port was a bit slow, but pockets of clearing agents went to the GPHA Revenue Centre to make enquiries on how to make their requests online.
On Monday, 4th September, traffic increased massively and the paperless system was tested fully.
Challenges begun to emerge because the internet of the various service providers was said to be very slow.
Invoices had errors, containers were not gating in fast enough, unstuffing charges were not billed.
Again, GPHA generation of invoice for clearing agents to make payments before the release of their goods also encountered some issues, as there were some discrepancies in the amount generated on the invoice.
On Tuesday 5th September, there was another challenge as agents could not make payments at the two main Banks (i.e. Ecobank and ADB).
On this day, however, GPHA’s IT team was able to rectify the discrepancies in the generation of invoice and that set the pace for the smooth running of the system.
Ecobank and ADB also rectified their payment challenges which brought some hope to the paperless transactions at the port.
On Wednesday 6th September, the paperless process normalised and agents were able to make request and receive invoice for payments through the assistance of a help desk provided by GPHA at the revenue center. However, unfortunately, as early as 10:12am, there was a text message alert that the Pre-Arivan Assesment Reporting Systems (PAARS) was down. The system came back on as late as 2:49 and at this point some other systems also fell flat. The situation again generated some apprehension among clearing agents.
On Thursday challenges of inaccessibility to compliance releases, lack of officers to pass releases after the joint inspection and difficulties in generating GPHA invoices was a misery to the paperless project. Scores of agents gathered in front of the long room to protest what they said was a network challenge.
This necessitated an emergency meeting by the Director of Tema Port and Sector Commander of Customs Division in Tema who resolved to address the situation with urgency.
A Deputy Minister of Finance, Kwaku Kwarteng also came into calm the clearing agents and assured them that all efforts are being made address all the difficulties but also urged them to corporate to make the system work effectively.
The agents also expressed fears that the inability of the network to function could cause some delays in the clearance of their goods and also attract rent and demurrage charges.
But the Finance Manager of the Port Authority, Tebon Zumah who has been in the thick of affairs in addressing most of the challenges assured them, the rents will be waved off and indeed followed up to do so for some of the customers who deserved them.
On Friday, 8th September, however, the overall system was relatively better but not without pockets of challenges which were of serious concern to players. The day also saw two major directives being issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Customs. Richard Yawutse one was emergency measure to clear the backlog of goods affected by the paperless and mandatory joint inspection projects and the other was emergency measures to clear goods at the scanner terminals.
These two immediate releases normalized the clearance situation at the port on Friday relatively taking the process into a calmer weekend. And Saturday 9th November equally witnessed again a relative sanitized process.
Stakeholders are optimistic that after reviewing the 1st week of the paperless and joint inspection procedures, the 2nd week will surely see an improvement in the systems implementation.