Business News of Thursday, 28 November 2019
Clearing agents and the importer community are in a tango with the Meridian Port Services (MPS) Limited over what they describe as the charging of fees for no work done.
According to the importers, charges at the Tema Port were based on a new arrangement that required that importers paid before their entire consignments were inspected to confirm the contents of the containers they had brought into the country.
Unlike the old regime where payments were based on the kind and extent of container handling, otherwise known as partial or full unstuffing, the agents and importers told the Daily Graphic that MPS had gone against the norm and was now insisting that importers with consignments passing through Terminal Three (T3) of the Tema Port first pay the full cost of unstuffing all containers before the actual work was done.
The upfront payment allows the MPS to take the cost for unstuffing containers, only to end up doing nothing on some of the consignments, something the importers said had added to the cost of doing business at the port.
Subsequently, some of the importers have threatened to move to neighbouring ports should the exercise continue.
Port tariff 2018
Unstuffing cargo containers involves unsealing them for goods to be removed and inspected by Customs, on determining that there are discrepancies with the manifest and the scanned images of the consignment.
The action attracts different charges, depending on the size, type and kind of inspection activity (partial or full unstuffing) being undertaken on the container.
In Ghana, those charges are contained in the GPHA Port Tariffs 2018.
When contacted, the Operations Manager of the MPS, Mr Emmanuel Ohene Addo, confirmed the development as a new regime at the terminal.
“This terminal is a world-class port and so every fee is based on the GPHA Port Tariffs; the MPS does not charge anything separate from that,” he said.
He indicated that the new upfront charge regime was introduced based on an arrangement with Customs to check its officers, who were thought to be conniving with some clearing agents to cheat the state at the examination platform when the scanned image had already identified discrepancies with manifests.
“Customs realised this development which often derailed it from meeting its revenue targets and so it arranged with the MPS to introduce the upfront fee to address the situation.
“Now once a cargo container is due for inspection on the examination platform, a consignee is to pay unstuffing charge as part of measures to block loopholes,” he said.
However, to mitigate the burden on importers, Mr Addo explained that the MPS currently used only partial unstuffing charges for either full or partial unstuffing activities at its new terminal.
He expressed the readiness of the MPS to refund any charges it had collected from an importer unduly with regard to unstuffing of containers, once the sector commander made a request to that effect.
He explained that the examination platform was built and the equipment and persons were engaged on the request of Customs to be ready for any unstuffing activities, and so “if a consignment is due for inspection and the officer refuses to act accordingly, the MPS cannot be faulted”.
Meanwhile, the General Manager in charge of Marketing and Corporate Affairs at the GPHA, Mrs Esther Gyebi-Donkor, said although unstuffing charges were in the tariff structure of the authority, it was wrong for the MPS to charge them before undertaking activities in a container.
“The unstuffing charges, as you rightly mentioned, is in our tariffs, but we can only bill someone for them when the activity has taken place.
“The authority developed the tariffs to guide it in pricing some of these activities at the ports and so we do not expect them to be charged on services before work is actually executed,” she said.
“We also used to charge the service upfront in the past, but just as this has been greeted with protests by importers, that regime was withdrawn and replaced with a better regime, which has now become a complimentary charge,” Mrs Gyebi-Donkor added.
Asked whether the GPHA had been informed about the development, she answered in the affirmative and explained that the issue came up at a public forum some weeks ago, where the management of both the GPHA and the MPS were present.
“At the forum, the CEO of the MPS assured us that he would check with his operatives and get back,” she said, and added that the fact that unstuffing charges were captured in the GPHA Tariffs list did not mean they should be charged, whether or not the activity was performed.
When contacted, the President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Mr Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, corroborated the importers’ story and said the current happenings were as a result of the absence of a proper governance structure at the port.
He said since the T3 became operational, he had observed that the management of the MPS had deliberately introduced measures which put stakeholders at a disadvantage.
“Management decisions at T3 are driving us to a point where one day the port will be ungovernable for all of us. That day is gradually getting closer,” he added.
The Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana (IEAG), Mr Samson Asaki Awingobet, said the GPHA had sold its birthright to the MPS and, for that reason, had lost its authority to call the T3 operator to order.
That, he said, had emboldened the MPS to introduce various means to collect extra money from persons who did business at the port.
“Can you imagine that the MPS has deliberately decided to scan and unstuff every container, including frozen containers which originally were not supposed to be unstuffed?” he asked.
The Daily Graphic learnt that the stakeholders had petitioned both the GPHA and the Office of the President to call the management of the MPS to order.
“Should nothing be done about the situation, the stakeholders maintain that they will move their businesses to neighbouring ports,” the petition said.