In recent years (specifically in the past decade), efforts to increase efficiency and enhance revenue at Ghana’s ports have intensified, with the introduction of reforms such as the Ghana National Single Window, advanced shipping information system, the paperless port, joint destination inspection and a cargo tracking note system among others. While some gains have been made by implementing these reforms, they have not been without challenges. Stakeholders of the ports have often complained of limited consultation processes prior to the implementation of reform initiatives and as such have had little ownership of the initiative. Government have also complained about the attitude of the private sector in receiving some of these initiatives. To achieve the objectives of reforms and an efficient port thereof, there is a need for a joint effort and ownership of initiatives to address emerging challenges of trade facilitation and revenue mobilisation.
The set objectives of the forum are as follows:
- To identify the core challenges from both trade facilitation and revenue mobilisation angles for the Cargo Tracking Note System and the Paperless Port.
- To identify practical solutions and the institutions responsible for delivering the suggested solutions.
- And to identify how the right incentives can be created for the responsible parties to ensure lasting solutions – What are the right incentives?
Panel 1 – Cargo Tracking Note (CTN)
There were four discussants on this panel to discuss the topic of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN). They included the president of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (Mr. Kwabena Ofosu Appiah), the Executive Secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association (Mr. Samson Asaki), the National Secretary of the Customs Brokers and Agents Association of Ghana (Mr. Nicolas Osae) and a Chief Revenue Officer from the Ghana Revenue Authority (Mr. Bismark Kissi).
Status of the Cargo Tracking Note System
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: generate real-time information to effectively control, supervise, and manage import traffic into Ghana; plugging of identified loopholes & leakages in order to preserve the sanctity and integrity of customs valuation of goods and freight; reducing the turnaround times; and the provision of a one-stop comprehensive and broader view of the global logistics chain to Customs.
Implementation of the CTN system has been marred with a lot of challenges, including delays, opposition and requests for more information. 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). Implementation of the CTN was once again suspended on the grounds of inadequate consultation with stakeholders in September, before it resumed on 15th October 2018.
Key Challenges Identified with the Implementation of the CTN
Three key challenges were identified by stakeholders during the forum:
- Increase Cost of Imports: Though the trader or importer does not directly pay for the cost of using the CTN platform, representatives of the Importers and Exporters Association as well as the Association of Custom House Agents Ghana (ACHAG), explained that forwarders at the port of origin are charging importers for submitting the CTN documents on their behalf. According to ACHAG, importers are paying about $300 per document to forwarders at the port of origin. This they believe will eventually be passed down to the consumer. Though the increasing cost was a challenge to implementation, the stakeholders seemed more concerned about the lack of value for money as there is still uncertainty on whether transactional values or benchmark values are used by GRA-Customs even with the implementation of CTN.
- Uncertainty in valuation still remains (the use of benchmark values verses the use of transactional values): ACHAG stated that their major problem with the implementation of the CTN thus far is the lack of certainty and clarity on which values – transactional or benchmark value – are being used by GRA-Customs. He asserted that even after the implementation of the CTN, he has CTN documents whose invoices have been uplifted by GRA-Customs. Their concerns were shared by several other stakeholders at the forum. In responding to these concerns, Mr. Bismark Kissi, a chief revenue officer at GRA, stated that customs have not received any instructions to use benchmark values as far as the CTN values are concerned. However, customs continue to consult all the existing values in their system including the benchmark values as far as valuation is concerned. He further detailed that a lot of issues were taking into consideration before the benchmarking system was introduced. He however explained that over the period, the number of items accepted at transactional value has improved which is an indication of increased compliance.
- Custom to Custom Cooperation: there was a lot of question on why customs to customs cooperation has not been adopted by the GRA-Customs in fighting the challenge of under-invoicing and over-invoicing as it is more sustainable and aligns with recommendations of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which Ghana has ratified. GIFF asserted that CTN will not be value for money. This is because, they believe it does not matter who submits the trade documents (whether it is the forwarder at the port of origin or port of destination) as they are all working at the behest of the importer.
Suggested Solutions and Incentives Needed to Ensure Sustainable Compliance
- Increased clarity and certainty on how valuation will be done with the adoption of the CTN system and how it differs to the previous benchmark valuation systems. Stakeholders, particularly ACHAG, was adamant that, they will only support CTN if both validation and valuation is done right. That is, when importers can have certainty that once they submit documents with CTN values, the transactional values will be accepted. In response, Mr. Bismark Kissi acknowledged that CTN will continue to improve and suggested that customers at ports should report issues to the appeals section of GRA-Customs in order for them to be informed of problems that need resolving.
- Enter into more Customs to Customs Cooperation agreements: GIFF was clear in their minds that Customs to Customs cooperation is the solution to the challenges of under-invoicing and over-invoicing being faced by GRA-Customs. GIFF believes that going into custom to custom collaboration is not expected to be a herculean task as not all geographical regions in the world is a high risk region for GRA-Customs. GIFF believes that Customs can easily identify the high risk regions and work with customs from those regions or countries. GIFF indicated that already a custom to customs arrangement exist between Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. He also made reference to the fact that the recent revocation of licenses of certain freight forwarders as announced by the GRA-Customs, was aided by the Custom to Custom collaboration. Mr. Sammy Agyemang, the moderator for the forum, also mentioned that Burkina, Mali and Niger has been asking for this cooperation with Ghana.
- There was also a suggestion that there are newer versions of the manifest document that can include the information (data fields) being collected by the CTN system. Mr. Matthew Soputamit, a chief technical officer at GCNet, mentioned that institutions involved in manifest management has made a proposal to the Ghanaian government on these newer versions.
The following questions emerged from the discussions:
- What happens to the Benchmark values previously used by Customs?
- Is Custom going to face out using the benchmark values? At what stage? Or will it continue to use the benchmark value?
- How is custom arriving at its values for valuation purposes?
- Why can’t GRA-Customs implement CTN themselves? Why does a third-party need to introduce it?
- Does GRA-Custom have plans to enter Customs to Customs Cooperations with Ghana’s major trading partners and ‘high risk’ countries? Are there specific timelines to achieving this?
- Are there challenges preventing full Customs to Customs Cooperation with Ghana’s major trading partners and/or ‘high risk’ countries?
Final Remarks by Discussants
- Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF): GIFF believes that CTN has just succeeded in creating business for their counterparts at the port of origin. The believe the most sustainable solution will be the Custom to Custom Cooperation between Ghana and ‘high risk’ countries or regions.
- Importers and Exporters Association, Ghana: The Importers and Exporters Association conclude that, they do not and cannot prevent government from maximising revenue mobilisation. They are however questioning the reasoning for the CTN. The Association wanted the consultative process to continue as forwarders at the port of origin are forcing importers to go through the CTN system regardless of whether the importer is sending less than 4 containers or not.
- Customs Brokers and Agents Association of Ghana (CUBAG): CUBAG admitted that they had initially resisted the introduction of the CTN System (along with other stakeholders) as they were sceptical of the benefits of CTN. However, CUBAG stated that it currently supports the adoption of the CTN Systems based on an understanding of the benefits of CTN and assurances that CTN will not come at a cost to traders. CUBAG stated that, with the CTN system, credible invoices will be submitted and as a result, custom’s will not uplift invoices sent to them. They also believe that the CTN will reduce the incidence of under-invoicing and over-invoicing, and encourage voluntary compliance and reduce corruption at the ports. They encouraged all stakeholders to support government in implementing the CTN policy.
- GRA – Customs: GRA recognised that there were teething issues with the CTN, which is why they had made an appeals section of the Customs Solutions accessible. In this way, there would be improvements made to the CTN in the future. As CTN is a new policy, challenges are eminent and GRA-Customs is working to address any challenges as they come up.
Panel 2 – A Review of the Paperless Ports, a Year after its Introduction
The second panel also had four discussants to discuss the topic of the paperless port. They included the president of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (Mr. Kwabena Ofosu Appiah), the chief technical officer at GCNet (Mr. Matthew Soputamit), the Chairman of the Association of Custom House Agents Ghana (Mr. Yaw Kyei), and a Chief Revenue Officer from the Ghana Revenue Authority (Mr. Bismark Kissi).
Status of the Paperless Port
Ghana was among the first countries in Africa to start the Single window project in 2000. Currently, there are about thirty-eight (38) agencies currently on the single window platform performing functions like generating permits, declaration and exemptions. There is also an e-payment platform has that has been added to ease payments. Generally, the single window project has exhaustively integrated several stakeholders to ensure an improved trade facilitation environment. GRA-Customs agreed to these observations and added that teething problems are continuously being addressed to ensure an efficient system.
The president of ACHAG, Mr. Yaw Kyei, also acknowledged that the paperless port process has been a great reform so far. According to him, before the paperless port project, it took about a week to clear goods from the port. The number of days has considerably reduced with the paperless port. Though he was happy with the progress made, he noted that the objectives set by the vice president of Ghana for the paperless port are yet to be fully met. The objectives include reducing clearing time to four hours, a joint destination inspection of only three agencies, and a reduction in physical examination 50% of goods entering the port.
Mr Yaw Kyei was particularly happy with the fact that agents received regular updates and feedback at various stages of the clearing process; the improved payment system; compliance taking from the long room to the GRA head office and the alert system which gives information on the team leaders that will handle physical examination at any point in time.
The forwarders also agreed that their cost has reduced in terms of reduction in printing papers, time spent on transactions or clearing goods, and increased transparency and reduction in demurrage charges for importers. Mr. Yaw kyei also submitted that there has also been a reduction in operating risk as agents can make e-payments which has reduced the incidence of writing blank cheques which could potentially be abused.
The president of GIFF however observed that, though some gains have been made, there is a lot of room to maximise these gains.
Notable Challenges with the Paperless Port System
Notwithstanding the generally positive sentiments and observations made by the discussants, a few challenges were identified during the forum.
- The Examination process is not entirely paperless as some senior custom officials still require papers.
- The joint destination inspection team is no longer a team of three agencies. A fourth team, which is a task force set up by customs has been added, creating some sort of multiplication of the teams at the port. This however is a step that has been taken by Customs to prevent some of the leakages as some agents (forwarders) sometimes misclassify their consignment.
- GIFF believes that though some gains have been made, a proper governance system would have consolidated these gains. Mr. Ofosu-Appiah hinted that the various authorities at the port are mindful of generating revenues – as they do not want to come across as generating revenue without any clear services delivered. As a result, they engage in activities which may not necessarily facilitate trade. In his view, the various ministries see their departments and agencies as a cash cow of some sort. Without a proper governance structure, it becomes difficult to get participating agencies to comply. The executive secretary of the Importers and Exporters Association also shared in this concern.
- Miscellaneous Charges on the Forwarders Bill: ACHAG confirmed that miscellaneous is being charged to importers and part of it is an appreciation fee for custom officers to appreciate them for working overtime to clear their consignment. Though it is not particularly legal, it is a convention that has been accepted at ports in Ghana. Mr. Kyei further explained that the appreciation becomes necessary if the custom officer has to work overtime to ensure that the goods are cleared in time in order that the importer prevents his/her goods from staying overnight and potentially incurring charges on rent and on demurrage. This practice is preferable for the importer in this situation as it makes business sense. Critically, who sets the rates for this miscellaneous? Who determines whether the custom officer has worked overtime and as such deserves to be tipped or appreciation? How do we prevent abuse of this? Mr. Sammy Agyemang noted that in most cases, miscellaneous charged by agents (forwarders) are sometimes higher than the miscellaneous charged by operators of the single window platform.
- Paperless Port at the Airport: Representative of the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) noted that though the infrastructure available at the airport indicates that paperless should exist, in reality paperless does not exist at the airport. In response, Mr. Matthew Soputamit explained that indeed the first ever piloted paperless process was done at the airport. As a result, though airport is not officially listed as paperless, most of their activities are paperless. About 40-50% of all goods at the airport are cleared on the same day because of the use of electronic tools. GACL agreed that the existing infrastructure presupposes that there is paperless port, however there must be an announcement so that all the other stakeholders at the airport can act accordingly. GRA-Customs assured GACL that sensitisation will soon be carried out at the airport as well.
The following solutions were suggested to address some of the challenges raised at the forum.
- The representative of GRA-Customs, Mr. Kissi, assured the audience that Customs will work to ensure that senior officers no longer require papers during the examination process. Mr. Matthew Soputamit also explained that a preventive model is being piloted. With the model, preventive officers or the national security can have electronic access to declarations so that they will no longer require papers or further proof. He added that, the system must be continuously improved and punitive sanctions must be applied to agents who abuse the system.
- The agents (forwarders) must ensure that they rightly classify their consignments in order to eliminate the need for the custom task forces set up to ensure compliance.
- With regards to the miscellaneous charges, GRA-Customs explained that there are some provisions for custom officers who work overtime. Officers can write to the sector commander – who can designate some officers to work overtime and be compensated accordingly by the authority. Mr. Matthew Soputamit also added that importers can trace the charges made on their consignment at the port by their agents (forwarders). With the declaration number, the importer can log into the Ghana Single Window Portal (also available as an App) and be clear on what duties they are paying to enhance transparency. There is also a short code system that provides such details to the importer. GCNet is also working with GUTA to get the details of their members in order to send them alerts on every stage of their transaction or goods.
In their final remarks, the discussants were asked to rate the progress of the paperless ports. Below are the ratings given by the various stakeholders.
- President of GIFF: Mr. Kwabena Ofosu-Appiah gave the paperless port a rating of 65% because of the lack of a clear governance structure, which he believes will help maximise the gains on the investments made by government.
- Chairman of ACHAG: Mr. Yaw Kyei gave the paperless port a rating of 85% mostly because of the remaining challenges with examination.
- Chief Revenue Officer of GRA-Customs: Mr. Bismark Kissi gave the paperless port a rating of 85%, admitting that there are challenges that the various stakeholders are still working to address.