After 15 years of working with destination inspection companies (DICs), Ghana today dispenses with their services, handing over the task to the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA).
The decision has been met with both applause and criticism in equal measure. While more than 500 employees of the DICs lose their jobs, the move is seen as an opportunity to save the country millions of cedis that went into the coffers of the DICs as compensation for their technical support.
There have been calls from some quarters, particularly among laid off employees of the DICs, to tap into the expertise of the employees of the DICs as their companies fold up their operations in Ghana.
“Our experience and expertise are so valuable and expensive,” a spokesperson for the group, Carl Sowah, said on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show.
The new system, to be implemented by West Blue Ghana Limited and GCNet Services, in partnership with other scanning companies, will be known as the National Single Window System.
It is expected to ensure a seamless, efficient and user-friendly e-clearance regime.
The single window concept provides an opportunity for traders to lodge their documents, including certificates of origin, invoices, customs declarations and import/export permits, at a single location (electronically) to be accessed by all regulatory and trade agencies, instead of traders sending copies of the same documents to different agencies.
The facility is expected to reduce the cost and the time of doing business.
Already, a modernised environment has been developed by the Customs Division to provide a Pre-Arrival Assessment Reporting System (PAARS) to enhance revenue mobilisation, improve border security and Customs clearance, overcome duplication across regulatory agencies and promote trade facilitation.
Meanwhile, the Accra Human Rights Court has dismissed an injunction application aimed at halting the implementation of the planned single window scheme at the ports from today.
According a ruling given by Mr Justice J.A. Okwabi yesterday, there was “nothing to protect as the contract had already been signed and ready to be implemented”.
The decision to give the contract out to West Blue Ghana Limited has not been without controversy.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) had, in a June 3, 2015 letter, given the DICs up to 12 noon on June 8, 2015 to “respond with an Expression of Interest” indicating how soon they could make $35 million available to help the government defray a GH¢197 million judgement debt secured against the government by Bandswitch Ghana Limited.
The companies, probably eager about the prospect of keeping their jobs, responded positively, but a new twist that handed over the job to West Blue Ghana Limited stirred controversy.
The GCNet alerted the government to a possible breach of its service contract the latter went ahead to sign a new Single Window agreement with West Blue Ghana Limited.
A letter from the Chief of Staff, dated May 12, 2015, directed the Minister of Finance “to formally engage West Blue Limited to render services such as software implementation and support activities to the GRA and related agencies for takeover of the functions of the DICs on September 1, 2015; conduct needs/GAP analysis for the implementation of the National Single Window and implement the National Single Window Blueprint, following the needs/GAP analysis”.
It asked the Minister of Finance to “take the necessary steps to secure the Public Procurement Board’s approval in order to engage West Blue on a single source basis”.
The Trade Committee of Parliament also waded in to warn that it would probe the basis of the Trade Ministry’s letter asking DICs to help pay off a Bandswitch judgement debt in exchange for contracts.
What is DIC?
Destination inspection is a concept which was introduced to enhance customs functions as a stop-gap measure while waiting for reforms and modernisation.
Currently, there are five DICs operating in Ghana — BIVAC International, Gateway Services Limited, Ghana Link Network Services, Webb Fontaine Ghana Limited and Inspection Control Service.
The concept of destination inspection was introduced in 2000 to replace the pre-shipment inspection system which involved the inspection of imports before shipment from the country of supply.
But after 15 years, the country has decided to scrap it in principle with WCO regulations, which maintain that any country that wants to rely on contracting core customs services to private companies should as well disband its customs administration.
Down memory lane
July 2, 2015: The Chief of Staff, Julius Debrah, in a letter directed the Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, to solely engage West Blue consulting for the purposes of the single window implementation project for Ghana.
The Controller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Abdullahi D. I. CFR, in a letter, endorsed West Blue Consulting for the job.
July 10,2015: A legal practitioner and MP, Alex Afenyo Markin, threatened to drag the state to court over the matter.
July 12, 2015: The lawyer for a freight forwarder, Alex Afenyo Markin, described as an error the decision by the government to proceed with the contract.
July 13, 2015: The Chairman of the Concerned Freight Forwarders Association, Dennis Sefa Amful, said the government erred in rushing to give the contract to West Blue Consulting.
A clearing agent in Tema, Michael Kweku Djan, sued the government over the matter.
July 23, 2015: The Finance Minister, Mr Seth Terkper, defended the government’s resolve to award the single window and risk management systems contract at the ports to West Blue Consulting.
July 27, 2015: The Attorney-General (A-G) challenged the jurisdiction of an Accra High Court to hear the case.
July 31, 2015: An Accra Fast Track Court struck out the West Blue case brought against the government.
August 1, 2015: Lawyers for the freight forwarder who dragged the government to court said his client might still pursue the matter, although the court had dismissed it.
August 4, 2015: The DICs at Ghana’s ports directed to hand over.
August 6, 2015: A Tema Port based freight forwarder, Michael Kweku Gyan, went back to court with fresh lawsuits targeted at stopping the planned West Blue deal with the government.
August 10, 2015: A senior official of the Ministry of Finance disclosed the signing of the agreement of Ghana’s Single Window Project.
August 27, 2015: The Chief Executive Officer of West Blue Consulting Limited, Madam Valentina Mintah, promised efficient delivery of the nation’s single window project.
August 28, 2015: Workers of the five DICs called on the government to allow the GRA employ them to avert job losses.
August 29, 2015: Over 500 employees working with DICs will lose their jobs following the government’s directive to the companies to hand over to West Blue Consulting.
August 31, 2015: The government’s contract with the DICs officially ends.