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Challenges with UNIPASS: Shippers want ICUMS-related costs waived

Shippers whose goods are locked at the Tema Port owing to their inability to access the newly deployed Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) have called on the government to urgently engage shipping lines, terminal operators and Customs to consider waiving all costs that will be incurred as a result of the inconvenience.

Specifically, they want charges such as demurrage to shipping lines, rent to terminal operators and warehouse rent and interest charges payable to Customs all waived.

“The major challenge here is that our job comes with cost anytime there is a delay; this situation is not the fault of the importer but as a result of a system that has been introduced as a new way of trade facilitation,” a visibly worried Philip Badu Mensah, an executive member of the Association of Customs House Agents (ACHAG), told Business24.

He added: “This is a new system to improve the flow of trade so if we are experiencing a challenge then we can only plead with these entities to waive these charges so the cost of doing business does not go up.”

Two days after the deployment of the ICUMS at the Tema Port, majority of shippers are still unable to process their documents because the system is unable to capture and populate their TIN numbers, which is the first step of action before every other process can continue.

A visit by Business24 on Tuesday to the Customs Long Room and banks, which were bustling with activities a week ago when GCNet and WestBlue’s systems were live, were virtually deserted because most agents and shippers were unable to process their documents and subsequently effect the necessary payments.

A few of them were successful though; for instance, if they put in 20 TINs, one TIN was able to pop up for them to continue processing their document.

On the whole, a total of 213 declarations had been able to go through the ICUMS successfully as at yesterday.

“These are people who have made payment and are either with the shipping lines or proceeding to the inland container depots (ICDs) to take delivery of their cargo. What it means is that 213 people have successfully paid their duties,” Johnny Mantey, Vice Chair of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, told Business24.

But he went further to say that: “Be it pre-manifest, post-manifest or whatever, we need this system to work. We need the TIN numbers, which is the first point of call, to work. Of course, there will be challenges here and there but we hope it will turn out good.”

An unlucky freight forwarder working with the Free Zones regime also shared his experience: “I have not been able to process my documents; they are still with them [ICUMS]. They have not been able to clear me to go and ship my consignments. Everything is currently at a standstill as you can see.”

ICUMS is touted as an end-to-end solution and a departure from the previous system where ‘valuation and classification’ and ‘risk management and payment’ were handled by different entities.

“The decision to discontinue the services of GCNet and West Blue was informed by the need to replace the multiplicity of vendors with a single service provider deploying an end-to-end system,” according to a statement issued by GRA in announcing the plan.

But its full deployment at the country’s seaports of Tema and Takoradi has been met with stiff resistance from various stakeholders with varied concerns.

The shipping community are now waiting on government’s assurance to get the problems fixed by Wednesday [today], but they are equally worried about the cost burden associated with the whole situation.

Plan B or manual to the rescue?

The shippers have further indicated that if the ICUMS was not going to work efficiently, then Customs might have to come up with a Plan B; be it manual or any other system; that can facilitate the clearing of goods because the goods cannot stay at the port, much as government needs the revenue.

Mr. Badu Mensah of ACHAG said: “If the Plan B involves the manual process that is where we have put ourselves and there’s nothing that we can do about it. We cannot wait any longer because the cost will to too much to bear and the port will get congested.”

The aggrieved shippers are worried about their locked up goods at the Tema Port much as they rue the costs associated to the melee.

Source: Business 24


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