The Tema Port Sector Commander of the Customs Division of Ghana Revenue Authority, Dr. Godfred Okoh-Appiah has revealed that Customs have improved their systems to enhance their activities at the port.He said this on the new interactive platform of eye on port which now allows the general public and customers of the port to engage with key players in the port community on issues pertinent to the industry live on national television.In harmony with eye on port’s initiative to bring clarity to the general public of the specific roles of key industry players, the Assistant Commissioner of Customs described his outfit’s role as the state institution responsible to collect import duties as revenue for the state as well as control items that come in and leave Ghana’s borders.“All that it takes for customs to access, collect and account for the taxes on imports at the ports, happens to be the key function of customs. Then, when it comes to the non-revenue side, we also enforce laws governing prohibition and restriction in the country,” the Assistant Commissioner stated. He educated the public that duties taken by customs is only a part of the total charges importers pay for the general clearance of items.According to the Tema Sector Commander of Customs, those specific charges are always evident in the customs declaration of which every importer should have access to. This he advised would prevent importers from falling victims to fraudulent clearing agents.“Should the importer pay any money to agent, what is captured on the custom’s declaration and the various tax items are outlined on the declaration. The agent can print the declaration form and they are supposed to show it to the importer. You have to have evidence of clearance,” he revealed. He said trade facilitation, which is among the functions of the division is achieved by peak risk management using modern innovations to ensure quick but thorough examinations of goods during clearance at the port.“For the paperless system, there is no need printing custom documents here and there and be carrying them around. Everything is done electronically and all the agent need is custom declaration number and they can call any customs office to be attended to. Also, Customs, Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Standard Authority, all join and inspect the goods. The JIMIS is another innovation that reduces the inspection,” the Assistant Commissioner outlined.The Customs officer in charge of Tema Port defined the various categories of items his outfit examines during clearance at the ports. He said every category of goods has its designated regulatory agency that assists customs in its clearance.“The non-revenue functions are laws for other agencies that we help enforce, including Food and Drugs Authority- permit to clear pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food items. When it comes to household electronic goods, then Ghana Standard Authority comes in. When it comes to arms and ammunitions then the ministry of interior and the police,” he explained.Dr. Godfred Okoh-Appiah also took some time to explain customs processes when it comes to clearance of goods at the Port.“Pre-arrival time means the agent should submit electronically all the trade documents and shipment documents to the Customs Technical Services Bureau (CTSB) for pre-arrival reporting assessment to be done. That is where they obtained the CCVR. The data on this report is what the agent will use to lodge the customs declaration. It is the custom declaration which serves as the authority for the goods to be examined. So when the customs declaration is passed, the agent will go to the bank and pay the duty there. After payment the declaration will be sent to compliance at the customs headquarters. The officers there would do documentary verification to check all the information provided on the declaration, because at that point, that the decision as to which regime the importer or agent is subjecting the goods to is indicated before the declaration is routed to the port for examination.” The sector commander educated.He revealed that cargo which fails to be cleared from the ports are subjected to seizure after 60 days of stay at the ports, in accordance with Customs Laws. However, there is a grace period given for appeals to be made to retrieve overstayed goods. These goods according to him, are after, declared for the state, and placed for allocation or public auction.“60 days after the discharge of the cargo of the vessel that brought your vehicle, you have forfeited your vehicle to the state. These are provisions of an act we are enforcing. Within the period, there are some privileges. You can apply to the Commissioner General. When approval is given, you come to the port and we override the block in the system which would enable you effect your payment and take your vehicle,” he disclosed.The Tema Sector Commander, lamented diversion of goods as well as under declaration and misdescription of items with the aim of misleading Customs on the part of importers or clearing agents as some of the organisation’s major challenges. “The challenges are under-declaration, and misdescription. These are most of the infractions we encounter. Diversion, also is a terminology we use for goods declared for transit but are fail to get to their destination country but find their way to the domestic market. This deprives us from getting our due revenue,” he said. He warned that customs have a very potent risk management system that would not only detect false activity on the part of the importer or agent, but also come with severe penalties.“So, on suspicious items, they are flagged red on our risk management system, and physical examination is conducted. So, with this arrangement, when importers see the proper scrutiny the system would subject their goods to, and they’ll be caught and made to pay the due import duty and penalty which will serve as a deterrent,” he added.
President Nana Akufo-Addo met with the leadership of the Maritime and Dockworkers Union as well as the executives of the Staff union of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority comprising workers from Tema and Takoradi at the Jubilee House on Thursday, 16th of May, 2019.
The meeting was necessitated by recent agitations by the staff of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and employees of other Port, Maritime and Shipping related businesses over what the workers had described as delay or reluctance on the part of government in re-examining a concession agreement between Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and Meridian Port Service which has allowed the latter to expand the Port of Tema into about three time its current size.
The TUC and the Ghana Maritime and Dock Workers Union has in recent times taken the matter quite seriously and expressed concerns about the deal which they believe will lead to job losses.The TUC General Secretary, Dr. Anthony Yaw Baah also conspicuously highlighted the issue at the recent May Day Parade.
“When the new terminal commences operation in June, with the monopolistic rights given to MPS, Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and other operators at the Tema Port are going to lose huge revenues that may lead to the collapse of many container-related businesses. This will translate into massive job losses in the Maritime industry. GPHA may declare over 1400 workers redundant in 2019 alone,” he said.
But addressing the unionized group at the Jubilee House, the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, expressed the view that the concession agreement involves an important foreign investor who has been supportive to the country over the years, hence the need for circumspection in making demands for further negotiations.
“From the time I got into office, the whole of the MPS Tema Port expansion saga is one of the big investments I came to inherit, and indeed the minister of Transport has engaged with you on several occasions. But, the way the matter was being escalated in the public spaces especially by yourself, I felt that it is only right that in the system of government that we have, you engage with me directly. So that is why I extended this invitation for us to come and sit down and talk,” he expressed. The President held most parts of the meeting in closed doors but generally assured the unionized updating the labour groups in the very near future.Present at the meeting included, the Minister of Transport, Kweku Ofori Asiamah, The Board Chairman of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, Peter Mac Manu and the Director General of GPHA, Michael Luguje.
The Staff Union groups of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority have announced their seizure of wearing red following a meeting with the President of Ghana, Nana Addo-Danquah Akufo Addo who has assured to address concerns they had raised on the GPHA-MPS port expansion concession agreement.
“By the demeanor of the President and the interaction we had with the president, I am 100% convinced that within the next six weeks there is going to be solution to all these problems,” a GPHA union executive expressed.
According to the GPHA staff Union, the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo, said he is committed to ensure that the contract is examined to produce a fair, and favorable outcome for Ghana, during their meeting with him at the Jubilee House in Accra.
“The President has indicated to us that he has been interested and has followed whatever has been going on ever since the union brought its concerns on the concession. The president has consequently made a commitment to us that he is going to look at the issues that the unionized groups have raised and eventually, we are all expecting the concession agreement to be reviewed.”
Abdul-Rahman Baidoo, Chairman of the Maritime and Dockworkers’ Union said, the executives found it necessary to assemble members of the union, to update them on the outcome of their meeting with the President of the Republic.He disclosed that the Union is however monitoring closely developments of the review process and has set a time limit of 6-8 weeks to allow Government deliver on its assurance to review and salvage the situation.
“It was just appropriate that after meeting with the President of the Republic of Ghana, we have a responsibility to get back to staff and update them, as to what actually happened at the meeting with the President. We have to review our struggle and that is why we have decided- that we want to stop wearing the red. Meanwhile, we will allow the red flag to fly on the buildings and on the vehicles, while we monitor and see what happens. We are looking at a timeline of about six to eight weeks. It is our expectation that, we are going to hear something positive from the President,” he disclosed.
The Port Community is embarking on intensive educational program to regularly interact with the general public to keep them informed on the activities and processes at the port.Speaking on the new interactive platform of eye on port which now allows the general public to interact live on national television, the leadership of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority and Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders said it is about time the general public become conversant with every activity in the cargo clearance chain to enable them follow the right path in clearing their cargo from the Port.
“Bringing eye on port to this level is all for us to be able to have time with the public and our customers, so we can educate, sensitize and create awareness on the issues that we believe is necessary for the public to understand,” the General Manger, Marketing and Public Affairs of GPHA, Esther Gyebi Donkor expressed.
“Eye on port is a brilliant game changer. I have said it in the past, but then you realize that when its situated in the port, sometimes it becomes a bit intimidating,” the President of GIFF, Kwabena Ofosu Appiah opined.
The two institution took turns to educate the public on the various roles of GPHA and the freight forwarders at the Ports. Esther Gyebi Donkor, General Manager, Marketing and Corporate Affairs of the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority on her part, emphasized that GPHA being the mother institution of the Port, is in charge of providing infrastructure, logistics and management of all Ghana's Ports.
“We have Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, who is supposed to plan, build, manage, develop, maintain also to operate and control the ports of Ghana.”
She added however that the Port Authority interacts with other stakeholders in the Port community to serve its customers including other state organizations and private entities.“We have some of the major players as the shipping lines. We have the freight forwarders, customs, the importers and exporters and the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Standard Authority and the EPA. These are all working in the chain to make sure that we are able to bring cargo to the port, discharge and then give it to the owners,” she added.
Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, President of the Ghana Institute of Freight forwarders, explained that Freight Forwarders are the first line of call for businesses and every importer or exporter who intends to clear goods at the Port.
“After having acquired these skills set to do customs business, customs issue you with a proficiency certificate and that qualifies you to become a customs house agent and it is the customs house agent that is invariably referred to as clearing agent or customs broker. The Americans use Customs broker. His or her role is to interface between the importer or the exporter and the port,” he revealed.
The GIFF President emphasized the need for the existence of freight forwarders as enshrined in the laws of Ghana in facilitating trade. “Because Custom procedures are not that easy to just master at any point in time, the customs house agent have been trained to identify the kind of processes to apply and at what stage. So that is why we are a custom house agent. They have taken the pain to train us to do that bit of the job that otherwise, you would have walked to a custom officer to do. And maybe the custom officer might be able to deal with only you for the whole day,” he clarified.
Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, however, bemoaned the incessant rise of unlicensed and unauthorized clearing agents who engage in dishonest business transactions with the trader which makes doing business costly, and tarnishes the reputation of the good ones.
“When you come for quotations from me, obviously because I am in an office and my overheads are that big, it’s going to be different from someone you meet outside. So when you come to me and I give you a quotation and you go out there and somebody tells you that he can half it, know that you are subjecting yourself to a very high risk. And chances are also that when you commit and the person bolts away, you may never find the person,” the GIFF president disclosed.
The GIFF president called for importers and exporters to only deal with licensed and authorized clearing agents in order to get good valued service for their businesses.
“I will use this medium to urge traders on to approach offices, go to identifiable offices because when you go to the office, chances are that when there is a breach, you can trace the breach back to the office,” he advised.