The Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) aims to fully operationalize the use of the Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) as the national single window platform for import facilitation effective June 1, 2020 at the Ports and other entry points.
ICUMS which is currently being piloted since April 28, at the Tema Port, is what is claimed to be a new port clearing system that processes documents and payments through one window, a departure from the previous system where valuation and classification, risk management and payment were done by different entities.
However the freight forwarding industry, led by Edward Akrong, president of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, has revealed to Goldstreet Business that the supposedly new platform is simply the discredited UNIPASS, now being presented under a different name to disassociate it from its several recent operational failings.
In a statement copied to the media, acting GRA Commissioner-General, Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah, said the deployment takes effect from Tuesday. April 28, 2020. However it is to run alongside the outgoing GCMS platform operated by GC Net and West Blue Consulting until May 1.
This, in effect, means that all transactions in respect of import and export manifest can be processed through the ICUMS or through Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) for the Tema Port, as well as all other entry points but only until the end of this month.
“For the avoidance of doubt, with effect from June 1, 2020, all new transactions, without exception in respect of import and export shall only be processes through the ICUMS” the statement said.
“All existing transactions commencing prior to May 31, 2020 for which processing have not been completed in the GCMS, before or after payment of duty, shall be reprocessed through the ICUMS,” the statement added.
However while the platform has been given a new name, some of its old shortcomings still persist. Akrong admits that the use of the platform still presents “serious operational challenges.” Instructively, some shipping agents held a demonstration yesterday in Takoradi to protest against the problems they are encountering in using the platform.
Its many critics argue that the new platform is being run alongside the outgoing platform run by GC Net and West Blue Consulting for the next three weeks because government realizes that port operations still need a safety net in the form of the eminently successful outgoing platform. They further assert that government is hoping that the new platform’s facilitators will be able to clone the outgoing platform’s operating modalities before June 1; efforts by government to get GC Net and West Blue to willingly hand over their platforms to UNIPASS’s operators in the past have been solidly rebuffed.
Instructively, the decision by the government to get the newly renamed Integrated Customs Management System (ICUMS) to become functional at the port on Monday, April 28, 2020, initially left importers stranded, as they could not undertake pre-arrival processes on their imports.
GCNet and West Blue Consulting, who had previously provided platforms for cargo clearance since 2016, but who had been instructed by the government to shut down to make way for the new platform, were consequently brought back – albeit temporarily – to enable import processes to resume.
Reports indicate that while revenue payment on imports has picked up marginally, as a result of the parallel operations being run by the service providers, considerable progress has also been made on the ICUMS integration to the various freight stations at the port.
Operators of the newly renamed ICUMS system have been able to accept and process documentation on imports and exports at the Customs Division’s James Town Collection Point, according to GRA.
The Minister of Trade, Mr Alan Kyerematen; the Commissioner-General of the GRA, Mr Ammishaddai Owusu-Amoah; Col Damoah and the technical committee on the ICUMS implementation have held closed-door meetings with shipping lines, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and the Meridian Port Services (MPS) in an effort to get the new platform to work as it should.
That meeting led the parties to agree on the simulation of import declaration documents through the new system.
Government is loath to give up on the new platform despite its several shortcomings; the sole-sourced contract under which it has been brought in calls for government to pay some US$97 million in compensation to its operators if the contract is terminated within the first year of operation.