Graphic Business News

Long jump into single window initiative ...Let’s maintain gains

By: Maclean Kwofi

Ghana took a giant leap towards ease of doing business reforms when it introduced the single window platform that provides a comprehensive set of online services to the trading community.

With this move, the country became part of the ‘League of Nations’ which had braved the odds to properly automate their customs processes by employing the services of Ghana Community Networks (GCNet) to help establish the new platform.

Since its inception in 2002, the platform has yielded positive results, as the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has consistently exceeded its revenue target, following significant improvement in the processes at the ports.  

For instance, the second edition of the Ghana Business Development Review, published by the University of Ghana, launched on June 22, 2018, indicated that more than US$500 million had been saved over a period of two and half years with the operations of the single window initiative.

In the same regard, the platform designed to enhance the country's trade and economic development, as well as increase government's revenue at the various ports of entry, is expected to increase revenue by some US$200 million annually.

According to Customs’ Monthly Import Revenue Performance data for the period it has also revealed that the implementation of the single window system has increased government's revenue significantly by 24 per cent over the past two years, rising from GH¢744 billion in 2015 to GH¢975 billion in 2017.

The monthly data also explained that for the first four months of this year, for example, the total amount of revenue realised from imports stood at GH¢3.59 billion, a development that portends an increase in total revenue expected by customs at the end of the year.

Expected impact
But generally Ghana’s Single Window is a secure trade platform that facilitates the exchange of information between the government and the logistics community.

Ever since the platform was initiated, it has been progressively updated and extended in line with international best practices.

It reduces the need for data to be entered multiple times – instead it could be exchanged and re-used electronically, achieving faster, more accurate results and improving the ease of compliance with Government of Ghana (GoG) requirements.

GCNet came into being
The GCNet, therefore, came into being under a public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangement to provide information technology support for the government through the then Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) to facilitate the electronic clearing of goods and consignments at the country’s ports.

In line with that, the GCNet’s digitised customs information (Customs Management Information System) developed the feeder platform at its end (TradeNet) which permits the logistics community to exchange trade-related documentation electronically with all agencies involved in trade-related processes.

The TradeNet enables all permit-providing government agencies to issue their permits electronically and thereby cut the process of being physically present to manually apply for permits.

This system came to replace the chaos in the ‘Long Room’ at the Tema Port where about 14 processes had to be completed.

In 2015, the government phased out the Destination Inspection Companies whose services had been engaged since the year 2000 to replace the pre-shipment inspection system that involved inspection of imports before shipment from the country of supply.

The overarching reason, however, was to ensure that port operations were efficient and loopholes plugged to ensure maximum revenue mobilisation.

West Blue Consulting
Then enter West Blue Consulting in 2015, taking over the functions of the destination inspection companies which issued valuation reports on behalf of customs.

Ghana National Single Window (GNSW) programme was officially launched on December 1, 2015.

Customs, therefore, took over their core mandate of Classification, Valuation and Risk Management with West Blue Consulting as the Consulting and Technical Partner for the Division; and this ushered in the second phase of the GNSW.

Paperless clearance system
Although the system has had a long history, it was the present government which championed the introduction of the paperless system in September last year to ease goods clearance processes at the ports.

The Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Mawumia, speaking at a recent International Single Window Conference, revealed that the paperless system was deployed without the government incurring any cost, thanks to the strong foundation by the GCNet, West Blue Consulting and other stakeholders had laid.

Since its introduction, the paperless system has so far made significant progress, as data from GCNet indicates that over 40 per cent of containers are cleared within 24 hours and about 70 per cent of containers are cleared within 72 hours.

While this is an improvement and a welcome news to players in the shipping business, it is still not good enough for the growth of the country.

Human interference
In less than a year into the system, reliable information indicates that the four-hour threshold for clearing consignments is still a challenge to meet due to several factors, including the tendency among officers to artificially create a stalemate, bringing in human intervention in which they will capitalise and indulge in some malfeasance.

On the other hand, some importers and clearing agents continue to tender fake documents with falsified values meant to reduce their tax liabilities at the port.

Such practices only inhibit the free flow of the new system which is being deployed across the globe, including many African countries.

In line with this trend, the Vice President of the Republic has warned operators at the ports to eschew corruption and work hand-in-hand with the authorities to ensure the success of the paperless port system.

Lessons learnt
As detailed above, a lot has been achieved in a very short time. This has been helped enormously by the strong support of both government and the private sector. Continuation of this support is a pre-requisite for the ongoing success of the initiatives at the country’s point of entry.

Also, it is essential that the reforms stay focused on priority deliverables, driven by both government and business needs.

In conclusion, a comprehensive approach to change and transition management is crucial to allay fears, overcome resistance to change, and ensure the sustainability of all the reforms introduced at the ports.

Experience to date gives the implementers of the reforms, both in government and the business community, confidence that these prerequisites will be met and it is hoped that Ghana’s single window and its related initiatives will become a global reference case for best practice in single window implementation. – GB