Business News of Saturday, 22 July 2017
Stakeholders in the country’s trade hub are optimistic of meeting the September 1, 2017 deadline for the removal of customs barriers and other reforms at the ports.
The three-pronged port reforms include the removal of customs barriers along the country’s transit corridors, paperless transactions at the country’s ports and trade chain and a mandatory joint inspection of imports at the country’s ports.This is to eliminate bottlenecks in the country’s trade chain and ensure efficiency at the ports.
The reforms, being championed by the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, if implemented, will be expected to reduce the cost of doing business in the country, reduce congestion in the port space and further increase Ghana’s business competitiveness within the West African sub-region.
Stakeholders at a meeting with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Trade, Industry and Tourism in Accra last Tuesday laid out their plans to ensure a successful take-off of the programme.
There were concerns, however, about the failure of the Ministries of Finance and Interior to get their systems onto the electronic Ministries, Departments and Agencies (eMDAs) platform created for the issuance of permits and licences.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of West Blue Consulting, Ms Valentina Mintah, told the committee that her outfit, in collaboration with the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF) and Customs, had created a Customs House Agents Management System (CHAMS), a platform agents and importers could use to register, apply for permits and renew licences electronically.
CHAMS, which is a component of the National Single Window (NSW), provides a complete automation of licence renewal processes as against the manual cumbersome procedures presently in place.
Ms Mintah suggested that an effective roll-out of the core components of the policy reforms would require the need for existing operating systems to be effectively integrated with feedback loops to ensure that every segment of the process, from start through clearance to post clearance, was truly paperless.
She also pointed out that a trade hub portal had also been created as a source of information on all necessary documentations such as licences and permits and all processes in import and export transaction chain.
Investors, buyers and sellers, she said, could network and create an effective marketplace for their businesses and global traders.
“It was for this reason that West Blue, in collaboration with Customs, created the ghanastradinghub.gov.gh portal to serve as an interface between the trading public and the various agencies connected in the trade and port clearance, licencing and permit issuance processes,” Ms Mintah said.
“The site presently records some 16,000 visits per month from all over the world and we are hoping to sensitise the trading public further to endeavour to access every trading information on import/export procedures, customs code, fees and licences, appeals process and all relevant information related to trade facilitation,” she added.
The Deputy General Manager of Ghana Community Network (GCNet), Mr Emmanuel Darko, indicated that the systems deployed by the company were such that a compliance officer at Customs could send queries to an importer through his designated Customs broker for additional information or clarification.
“This negates the need for the agent to physically travel to the documentation verification centre, also known as Long Room, to see the compliance officer since all documents needed will be submitted electronically during the application process for permits and licences,” he noted. The company, he said, was procuring android tablets for examination officers at Customs to enable them to key in data on the field without the need to use paper in the process.
“The tablet module will allow the officers assigned to the joint inspection team to see the details of the declaration and the appropriate licences/permits approved by the respective MDAs submitted through the eMDA system,” Mr Darko suggested.
He also hinted of the establishment of a trade information centre for the Ministry of Trade, and “GCNet has already refurbished some facilities at the ministry to be used for that purpose,” he added.
The acting Commissioner of Customs, Mr Isaac Crentsil, indicated that a project implementation committee that had been put in place was coordinating the activities with the various stakeholders to ensure a successful take-off of the programme.
He said the removal of Customs barriers were underway, while the division was also devising new strategies to ensure that the paperless processes which were first introduced in 2013 by Customs but were suspended due to the submission of fictitious documents by agents were strictly enforced.
He said a mock exercise on the paperless and joint inspection processes would be carried out from July 15 to August 22 at both the Takoradi and Tema Ports.
Members of the Select Committee were, however, not enthused about the seemingly adamant posture of the two technical providers, GCNet and West Blue, which they said could be a setback to the reforms.
The Minister of Planning, Prof. Gyan Baffour, however wondered why Customs could allow agents to hold them hostage, leading to the suspension of paperless processes.
He tasked them to endeavour to enforce the rules to bring agents to order.
The Chairman of the Select Committee and Member of Parliament (MP) for Tema East, Mr Daniel Titus-Glover, who expressed satisfaction at the measures put in place so far by the stakeholders tasked them to intensify their sensitisation efforts to get the public abreast of the new reforms.
He also appealed to the Ministries of Finance and Interior to endeavour to roll onto the eMDA platform so that all processes could be truly paperless in line with the reforms.