Importers decry high taxes

VesselThe long and cumbersome processes importers have to go through at the Tema Harbour before clearing their cargo are gradually turning the port into an unattractive destination for doing business.

As a result of the delays, importers pay more for the trucks hired to cart their goods from the port.

For instance, an importer had to pay GH¢21,000 to clear printing materials, instead of GH¢6,000, because the containers had to go through many processes.

While many trucks exiting the port with loaded cargo have to wait for several days before being processed and discharged by the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) and other agencies involved in the clearing process, some importers have to pay more to clear their cargo as a result of the long delays associated with the winding processes.

Heralding the strenuous processes is the presentation of invoices and packing list of the goods by an importer to the inspection company for inspection and validation of the goods.

After that, the importer is required to present the necessary import documents to the Ghana Community Network Services Limited (GCNet) to make a declaration of the goods in a container and make payment to the bank.

The importer then goes to the Customs Division for compliance to validate the examination of the goods by the inspection company, after which he or she goes to the shipping line for the release and delivery order.

Afterwards, the documents are expected to be presented to a terminal operator for him to position the container in the yard to allow custom officials to conduct a physical examination of the goods.

Depending on the nature of the goods, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) carry further examination on them and sometimes subject the goods to laboratory analysis to determine their suitability for consumers.

From there, an importer is required go to the Customs Chemist (laboratory) for a release which is sent to an examination officer for inspection to establish the true value of the import declaration the importer has made.

The importer is then made to go to the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) to pick up a waybill, after paying rent and handling charges, before the goods are cleared from the port.

As a result of these frustrating processes, importers doing business at the harbour have advocated the need to streamline the clearing and handling processes to prevent truck congestion and undue delays.

When the Daily Graphic visited the port on Monday, aggrieved drivers of stranded trucks complained bitterly about the situation there.

It was evident that the delay also built up expenditure on the cost of doing business as far as the hiring of trucks is concerned.

In separate interviews with port operators, it became apparent that all agencies at the port would need to plan and streamline the current clearing processes to pave the way for easy clearance of cargo.

They suggested that the system of clearance at the port should be modernised to meet international standards.

It was also gathered that the presence of over nine regulatory agencies playing different roles at the port had also contributed to the delay in the clearance of containers after they had undergone scanning.

Some of the operators also accused some members of the Task Force on Revenue Mobilisation for worsening the frustration importers usually went through at the port.

A clearing officer told the Daily Graphic that on some occasions some members of the task force stopped importers on the way after they had cleared their goods from the ports to verify all the documents covering their goods.

The Scanner Manager of Gateway  Services Limited (GSL), Mr Charles Okine, explained that the problem facing importers was to be blamed on the manual checks undertaken by regulatory institutions, including the FDA, the GSA, National Security, the BNI, the police and the GPHA security.

He called on importers to discard the idea that the scan was the source of the problem, saying that it took the scan 10 minutes, on the average, to scan a container, which then moved to a holding place at the western gate for checks by others, if the container was found with discrepancies.

The President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders (GIFF), Mr Carlos Ahenkorah, who described the current clearing procedures as obsolete and involving, called for immediate reforms to address the challenges.

“The situation at the port now is a chaotic one, as real estate space available to operators has dwindled marginally,” he said.

He wondered why the FDA, the GSA and the EPA, which have no laboratory facilities at the port for testing and certification of products, should play a key role in the primary clearing process.

Reacting to some of the concerns expressed by importers, the government has stated that it is satisfied with the work of the task force, writes Musah Yahaya Jafaru.

In an interview with the Daily Graphic on Monday, a Deputy Minister of Information and Media Relations, Mr Ibrahim Murtala Muhammed, denied allegations that the task force was frustrating the work of freight forwarders and customers at the Tema Port.

He said the task force was working within its mandate to expose and fight corrupt dealings, including under-invoicing, at the Tema Port and other entry points.

For instance, he said the task force had been able to raise more money from the difference of under-invoiced goods and penalty.

Besides, he said, it had arrested some national security personnel and some officials of the Customs Division for engaging in corrupt activities.

Mr Muhammed said often when a step was taken to fight corruption, many people naturally felt aggrieved and condemned the measure.

For instance, he said some of the freight forwarders were said to be leaving Ghana for Togo.

The deputy minister said if anybody had any evidence of unfair treatment, he could bring it to the attention of the government.

The task force, which comprises representatives of the various security agencies, was constituted a month ago to check smuggling at the country’s entry points.

It is chaired by the Chief of Staff, Mr Prosper Douglas Bani, and charged to mount surveillance, intercept and arrest people engaged in smuggling activities and evading the payment of appropriate levies on imported goods.

Last month, a deputy security representative at the Tema Port and five officers of the Customs Division of the GRA were arrested at the Tema Port for underhand dealings.

The task force again cited 30 companies for under-invoicing the value of their goods at the Tema Port.

Consequently, the task force, which had impounded the under-invoiced goods belonging to the 30 companies, compelled the managers of the companies to pay the difference and penalty, totalling more than GH¢60,000.

Source: Daily Graphic

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