Revenue enhancing measures introduced by Customs in the past 18 months include the paperless port system (strengthening the national single window), the excise tax stamp and the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) System. The implementation successes and challenges are discussed below.
Paperless Port (Strengthening the National Single Window)
The Ghana National Single Window (GNSW) was introduced in two phases, the first being in 2002 and the second being introduced in 2015. The objectives of the GNSW are stated as follows:
• To simplify, standardise and harmonise the underlying trade processes within all key government agencies, including Customs, and integrate these within the National Single Window framework.
• To provide traders with the critical “single entry point” to facilitate the single submission of their trade information for processing and to receive the relevant response from government and private sector operators in a seamless and easy to use service.
• To reduce the human interface in trade transactions, allowing most processes to be undertaken automatically. This will greatly increase transparency and reduce the possibilities for irregular interventions and payments.
• To introduce a fully integrated Risk Management system that will allow Customs and Partner Government Agencies to focus inspections and examinations on higher risk consignments, thus facilitating the free flow of legitimate transactions.
Implementation: Successes and Challenges
Since the full implementation of the GNSW in 2015, there have been a number of successes, such as increases in efficiency and productivity, with an increase in port revenue by 13.2% in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period last year (data sourced 1st August 2018).
However, despite the successes, there still remain a number of ongoing challenges, such as a lack of consistencies between customs officers due to attitudinal differences, congestion at the ports, infrastructure of poor quality, and duplication of processes, technical hitches, to name a few.
Cargo Tracking Note
The Customs Division of the GRA started implementing a Cargo Tracking Note System on 1st July, 2018, in line with its objective to reduce under-declaration and facilitate trade. Under this system, shipping lines are to provide CTN numbers on all Bills of Lading, Manifest and other shipping documents. Shippers/Forwarders at the various ports of loading are to provide detailed and timely information on all shipments to Ghana in advance on the Global Online Platform made available for the purpose.
The stated objective of the Cargo Tracking Note System is as follow:
• Generation of key prior shipment information in “real-time” to effectively Control, Supervise, and Manage import traffic into Ghana.
• Collation of reliable trade database to benchmark & protect Government revenue in import duties and taxes.
• Plugging of identified loopholes & leakages in order to preserve the sanctity and integrity of Customs valuation of goods and freight.
• Safeguarding and facilitation of trade in order to significantly reduce the turnaround time for Cargo Clearance which in turn will allow importers to avoid the payment of heavy demurrage fees and generally reduce the cost of doing business.
• Provision of a one-stop comprehensive and broader view of the global logistics chain to Customs, the Port Authority and other structures of control which will eliminate duplications and enhance reporting requirements.
Implementation: Successes and Challenges
Implementation of the CTN system has been marred with a lot of challenges. Implementation was actually postponed twice by the office of the Vice President, before the 1st of July implementation (in February 2018 and in May 2018). This was in response to resistance by key stakeholders including freight forwarders. Reasons cited for the postponement included the fact that information provided by the CTN is similar to information on the Manifest. The Vice President’s office also noted that implementation of the CTN will increase the cost of doing business at the port.
Resistance to the implementation of the CTN persist after almost two months of its implementation. The Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders have taken industrial actions and even threatened legal action in order to halt implementation of the CTN system.
On Monday 27th August, 2018, seven associations shut down operations at port across the country pending the suspension of the implementation of the CTN system. The associations included the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Association of Custom House Agents of Ghana (ACHAG), Freight Forwarders Association of Ghana, the Custom Brokers Association of Ghana (CUBAG), the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), Importers and Exporters Association of Ghana (IEAG) and the Food and Beverages Association of Ghana.
Some of the reasons for which the freight forwarders, particularly the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders are against the implementation of the Cargo Tracking Note are noted below:
• Legality: GIFF claims that there is not legal ground for implementing CTN as the law, Ghana Shippers Authority Regulations (L.I. 2190), makes provision for the establishment of the Advanced Shipment Information (ASHI), which was intended to provide the same service as the CTN. They assert that since the provisions that establishes the ASHI has not been repealed, the implementation of the CTN systems creates a duplication.
• Fees: The implementation of CTN comes at a cost of USD 100/2 TEUs on a bill of lading. GIFF is concerned that this cost will eventually be passed on to the importer even though Customs claims the implementation comes at no cost to the importer
• Used Motor Vehicles: Section 60 of CUSTOMS ACT, 2015 (ACT 891) is devoted primarily to the Valuation of Used Motor Vehicles, constituting over 50% of total duties collected. This is an innovation peculiar to Ghana and has won accolades to the Ghana Customs the world over. In essence, once you land a used motor vehicle on the shores of Ghana, there can be no valuation assurance based on whatever the CTN reports. This negates the valuation assurance claims by CTN on used motor vehicles; any fee charged thereof will not have been properly earned!
• The CTN may be an unnecessary burden to the importer and not achieve its purpose as the Shipper may not be interested in validating documents submitted to it by the importer. Suppliers may manipulate the prices on the commercial invoice especially in countries where there are no incentives to quote the right price.
• Technical Hitches: There have been technical challenges with the CTN systems since implementation began. This has also been confirmed by the shipping lines. Given that some of the technical hitches identified in the paperless port system persist, GIFF is skeptical that these challenges will be addressed in time.
Customs however remains resolute to implementing the CTN system. On Monday, 27th August, 2018, it warned shipping lines not load cargoes which do not come with the CTN number. Shipping lines who do not comply will be subject to fines from 1st September, 2018.
Excise Tax Stamp
The GRA, as part of measures to increase compliance in the collection of Excise, launched the Tax Stamp Policy, which emanates from the Excise Stamp Act, 2013 (Act 873). Enforcement of the policy started on 1st January, 2018 at the port of entry and on 1st March, 2018 at the point of sale. Though the Food and Beverage Association of Ghana opposed its implementation, the policy was not suspended and continues to be implemented to date.
Tax Stamps are small stickers with security features supplied by government to some manufacturers and importers to be affixed to their products before they are released onto the market.
The three initiatives (discussed above) introduced by government to address revenue mobilisation challenges at the port are good policy initiatives, however, the approach to implementation has not been very successful. For instance, the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) is a good way to check undervaluation and other risk issues as stated by GRA, at least in the interim.
However, it appears consultation with relevant stakeholders before the implementation of the CTN system has not been successful in addressing stakeholder concerns. There is a likelihood of revenue losses in the short term if strike persist. This may force government to suspend the implementation of the Cargo Tracking Note, thus weakening government’s efforts to enhance revenue mobilisation at the port.
It appears the stakeholders, in particular the freight forwarders, are capitalising on the legitimate challenges (as discussed above) to halt the implementation of the CTN in order to suit other motives. Customs need to explore avenues to encourage importers and the freight forwarders to rescind their decision to strike. Also, consultation for subsequent programs must be deepened to avoid the delays in policy implementation and the associated bad will it generates.
There is also the big challenge of government over-reliance on the port for revenues. High import/export duties and port charges in themselves is a disincentive to pay the right taxes. For instance, the miscellaneous cost item on a freight forwarders bill is said to be sometimes higher than the duty paid by the importer. It is alleged that miscellaneous covers items such as unofficial payments in attempts to avoid paying the right duties. Also, a study by USAID suggest that about 88% of port charges (by institutions) are for revenue purposes and not for the services rendered.