The single window concept is gradually catching on in Ghana. Charles benoni Okine (GB) caught up with the managing director of west blue limited, ms valentino mintah (vw), after a workshop on the new concept for select ED media practitioners from ghana and nigeria at senchi, near akosombo for an exclusive interview. he first asked her; why do you think ghana needs this SW concept?
Also recently, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade facilitation agreement stated that countries shall implement a single window concept; so it’s now becoming a known fact that it is something that is needed. Ghana is no exception and if we want to be competitive we have to start to look at ways of achieving this to make doing business in the country more conducive.
GB: Considering the good news about SW, why do you think some people opposed the concept, and in particular, West Blue?
I think it’s a combination of things; it’s an information misunderstanding, and maybe a select few deliberately made attempts to muddy the waters but what we always say at West Blue is that, we must always remain focused on the facts and the figures to back those facts and also make sure that the we always work from a credible source.
Whatever we do, we ensure that we align it to international best practice; we look at the figures that would back it up and the facts so that if there is misinformation, we can give the right messages and right communication channels to empower the institutions to build capacity and to create awareness. If there is any mischief, then, the facts would speak for themselves so that the opinions would be reduced.
GB: You are six months old now. What will you say are some of your major achievements?
VM: I think one of the major achievements was successfully going live with the pre-arrival assessment reporting system (PASS), which was the regime that ensured that Customs took over its core functions of valuation, classification and risk management from the destination inspection companies (DICs). Previously, these functions were outsourced to third-party companies.
For a country to have practised this for 15 plus years and to be able to successfully wean itself from this and to change the environment where this function is now managed by one institution and government institution is a step in the right direction. We all know the wrong perception that we sometimes hold about stakeholders but these will normalise. So to have successfully changed the environment that was in existence for over 15 years or so, to be able to reduce the time of compliance, from somewhere within the region of two weeks to two days and in some cases two hours, we will say we have achieved a lot. That is significant cost saving and time saving to the private sector and, of course, to the government. Time is money, you know.
You can only build a nation with sound institutions. So building a government institution with a partner agency to be able to run its core functions is indeed what any nation deserves.
GB: Definitely I am sure you have encountered some challenges. Can you enumerate a few of them?
VM: The first challenge was the misinformation and misrepresentation that was out there when we started; with every IT system, once you start afresh you are likely to face challenges.
It can be slow adoption to the use of the system; it can be system failure, technology failure, and it could be power failure, among other things. But the key thing is making sure that you identify all those risks and put plans in place to ensure that when those things happen recovery would be quick and even prevent it from happening again.
So in the first month we had issues with backlog where the Customs Division of the GRA was not able to meet the two days serviceable agreement due to the backlog which was caused as a result of data reconciliation as well as the slowness in systems, but we are pleased to say that, within the first three months, those challenges were eliminated.
GB: Did you anticipate some of these challenges right from the beginning?
VM: We would have hoped that we did not encounter those challenges but we did. Happily, we had appropriate contingency plans, effective enough to recover. So these were things we did identify. With IT, for instance, in the first few weeks of our operations, there were packets being thrown at our system from unscrupulous people. All these things are being looked at on a day-to-day basis to put in controls to prevent hacks, should they happen.
GB: Are we going to see WB stay on for the long haul?
VM: We need to try and understand the framework behind the concept. The DIC’s were a temporary regime to help build capacities within Customs, operate and transfer the skill set back into Customs. With WB, we are an IT company; we do not run operations for Customs; we just provide them the tools for them to do their work. We have other clients as well. We are an IT company that differentiates itself with the service we deliver to our clients. So definitely we are here to stay and take over functions by building innovative solutions for different areas to meet our clients’ needs.
GB: What is the level of political will and why do we need it?
VM: The National Single Window (NSW) Project is not just about one agency; it’s not just about the government and it’s not just about the private sector. It’s several stakeholders coming together to create this optimum environment for international trade. Therefore, for it to be truly successful, you need a political will; an understanding right from the top which says our country needs to move from this undesirable state to this desirable state. You need leadership, vision and resilience and that is what we have seen so far and we hope it continues into the future.
GB: What is the level of cooperation between the agencies working with you like?
VM: It’s 100 per cent and even more. We just finished the three-day retreat where we looked at processes that exist within our agencies and private sector and interconnects with each other. Everybody wants to see a difference. Everybody wants to see Ghana differently so instead of looking at things in silence, you have agencies and stakeholders coming together to see how we can do this together. The government’s collaboration has been excellent so across all levels it looks great. We just hope and pray we can maintain this level of cooperation to be able to achieve our individual and collective goals.