The Ghana Community Network Services Limited (GCNet), the e-Solutions provider to Government which developed and deployed the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) for clearing of goods at ports, in collaboration with the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) is deploying the Paperless Clearing System across all customs entry points in the country.
The Paperless Clearing System is currently implemented in Takoradi port and at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).
The new system requires that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that issue permits and/or exemptions before goods are imported into the country are linked onto the platform to issue them electronically.
Freight Forwarders and other actors in the Customs clearing process have also been migrated to the web-based platform namely the Ghana Integrated Cargo Clearance System (GICCS).
The exercise has become necessary because the clearing system introduced in 2004 to make customs clearing seamless and paperless, is being under utilized by stakeholders and end-users.
GCNet was established to develop and operate a customised electronic system for processing trade and customs documents.
The paperless clearing system would therefore mean that all parties involved in valuation, classification of imports, issuance of permits, settlement of cash and all other activities relating to the clearing process be web-based so as to facilitate a seamless system without recourse to much paperwork.
It cuts out human interference, which is inefficient and prone to malfeasance. The electronic based system also has an audit trail that tracks transactions in the system.
Currently, there are over 16 MDAs and permit granting agencies, connected electronically onto the system. This enables the system to process supporting documents, especially exemption letters or permits, electronically. For instance, Ghana Free Zones Board, Minerals Commission, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, Ghana Standards Board, Destination Inspection Companies (DICs), the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) etc… all issue their permits electronically using the platform.
Although GCNet seeks to eliminate trade related paper documents, declarants can still print copies of their declarations and obtain printed receipts for duties/taxes, fees or port charges paid.
Responsibility of importers and freight forwarders
It is in this vein that the GCNet has appealed to importers and Freight Forwarders to migrate on to the TradeNet electronic system by April this year to facilitate clearing at the Tema port. The importers and Freight Forwarders need to change to web-based platform to be integrated into the Customs clearing platform to automate their operations. This will mean that business owners need to set-up their offices with the required computer hardware.
The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority has also had cause to complain about the growing number of unregistered declarants who operate without computers and any form of electronic systems and therefore could not be hooked onto the customs electronic clearing platform.
An Assistant Commissioner of Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority in charge of Import and Export, Mr Wallace Akondor, said such operations posed challenges for the full implementation of a paperless system and therefore advised clearing agents to open offices, use computers and hire qualified persons to work for them where necessary, saying “you cannot do business without adhering to rules that go with it.”
The Manager in charge of TradeNet, Mr Jonathan Ofori, has stressed that the presentation of inaccurate details on imported goods had made the use of the system unattractive, saying some importers either under pretence or ignorantly, gave wrong descriptions to their imported goods causing difficulties in the processing of the documents.
“This will enable you to put in controls, monitor transactions and pre-clearance processes to feel the full benefits of the electronic system,” Mr Ofori explained.
GCNet plans more information sharing through notices and interactions between the systems operators and the importers to ensure they remained abreast of the new measures.
Benefits of system
The full paperless system has the capacity to weed out unauthorized and unqualified people (popularly referred to as ‘Goro Operators’) who act as clearing agents at the port. Clearing agents are also not allowed to give out their user credentials to any such persons.
The Tema Branch Manager of the GCNet, Mr Jimmy Allotey, was of the view that the practice of importers just handing over their documents to clearing agents without taking into consideration their credibility had also contributed to some difficulties of eliminating unregistered persons from the system.
He said the practice had led to inefficiencies in clearing processes, counter-productive to the purpose for which the ‘TradeNet platform was developed – solely to facilitate seamless clearing at the ports.
GCNet i-Transit service
GCNet also operates an i-Transit service, which fixes electronic tracking devices on transit cargo. This enables the GRA to track transit cargo and ensure that such consignments actually leave the shores of Ghana for their intended destinations.
This arrests previous flaws in the customs clearing system where cargo declared to be in transit end up in warehouses within the country.
The GCNet i-transit, which is limited to transit cargo only, has nothing to do with tracking devices used in the warehousing of goods from the port which is operated by another company with a different mandate and used entirely different equipment.