Isaac Adongo writes: UNIPASS ICUMS is a messed manual system; stop the huge revenue theft

Isaac Adongo and Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia at a public event
    • The Government of Ghana led by H.E Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo has deliberately deployed a weak so-called Integrated Customs Management System (ICUM) through Unipass to enable he and his cohorts of family and friends steal our dwindling revenues from the Country’s ports.
    • For decades, Ghana has been at the forefront of leading innovations in trade facilitations in the sub region. Those innovations came after series of dialogue, research, feasibility studies and surveys that identified lapses in the system and sought credible mechanisms to reverse their impact on trade flows and the bottlenecks to revenue generation. The successful deployment of these initiatives have not only helped to minimise inefficiencies and improved revenue generations in Ghana’s twin ports, they have enhanced Ghana’s image as a destination of choice for traders in West Africa.
    • Combined with other initiatives by other stakeholders in the sector, these measures have ensured that trade flows into and through the ports have enjoyed strong growth (until recently), resulting in more revenues generated for the state. In the business sense, these initiatives have also helped to position Ghana’s economy in an attractive light as positive scores in trade facilitation brightens a country’s chances of clinching a better spot in the World Bank’s enviable table of Ease of Doing Business.
    • The institutions at the forefront of these achievements have been the Ghana Community Services Network (GCNET), which started operations in 2002, and the West Blue Consulting Ltd, which started operations in 2015.
    • Since assuming office, the President and his family and friends have sought to pursue policies to deny the Ghanaian tax payer and the economy the benefits of increased streams of revenue by deploying his costs but ineffective solutions that only tend to benefit his corrupt nature.
    • You will recall the termination of the international call clearing house arrangement with Afriwave that saved Ghana millions of dollars in revenues that would have been lost to the state and replaced by the signing of a multi-billion dollar (about $1.2 billion contract) with Kelni-GVG which has proven to have no capacity to independently assure us of tax revenues from the Telcos and the signing of a dubious mobile money interoperability agreement costing the Ghanaian user some (US$1.3 billion) and the infamous Unipass deal that requires Ghanaians to pay more for a useless manual system.
    • In 2015, the solutions of the two firms, Wes Blue and GCnet were combined to provide an integrated end-to-end processing platform to deliver the Ghana National Single Window (GNSW), the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS) and its Trade Facilitation Single Window Platform (TFP) -components to meet ISO 9000 and 27000 certification standards. The integration proved successful, resulting in government revenues consistently rising (except in 2019 when government reduced benchmark values at the ports) to the admiration of all governments.
    • The data shows that customs revenue generated through the system rose from GHC7.5 billion in 2015 to about GHC13.2 billion in 2018. This represented an accumulated growth in customs revenues between 2015 and 2018 of about 76%.
    • Unsurprisingly, the system the two companies have put together has not had any system breaches since its inception. Indeed, the system’s robustness in the midst of expanded port operations has been remarkable as evidenced through the increased revenues delivered year-in-year-out.
    • In spite of these outstanding performances, GCNET and West Blue whose contracts are due to expire at the end of 2023 and 2020, respectively, are paid a combined fee of 0.54% of Free on Board (FOB) i.e. taking into consideration government’s 35% shares in GCNET.
    • Now, after these years of sustained innovations, deliberate investments and visible improvements in the gains, the country is readying itself to throw away its best trade facilitation service providers for a company that neither has a track record nor a concrete, a defined, a professed or a self-procured system to work with. The Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government is ready to abandon the tried and tested system that the GCNet and the West Blue built for the country for something neither the government nor its promoters have been able to say makes it worth the consideration, talk less of being superior to what we already have in place. They have set in motion a clandestine move to abandon the best for the worst and turnaround and give the best’s platform to the worst to transact business.
    • After cancelling the contracts of Wes Blue and GCNET before they fully run out their terms, Nana Addo has taken a dangerous step to saddle this country with potential judgement debts just to satisfy his parochial corrupt interest. What is worse is that the system being implemented at the ports today takes Ghana back to pre-2002 outmoded ancient manual operations at our ports.
    • It is instructive to note that this development is deliberate and meant solely to allow Nana Addo and his family and friends weaken the robust end-to-end system that was built by Wes Blue and GCNET to facilitate easy, faster and controlled clearance of goods at the port so they can clear goods for free at the expense of the state.
NoDescriptionEffect on RevenueNature of system used
1The sector commander of Tema Port issued directives to shipping lines and consolidators to go ahead and manually release cargoes and send emails to notify GRA. This means that someone at GRA scans through emails to confirm whether the numerous cargo should be released with electronic verificationThese cargoes are unlikely to have attracted duty and taxes as the directive did not require payment and other doc for release of cargoesManual operation in a so-called non-existent end-to-end electronic system
2.A customer advisory released by CMA CGM, titled ICUMS Go-Live-Manual Release process at Tema, the shipping line indicated that they were required to send emails to confirm BOE payments and release orders to TerminalsCollusion between importers and customs officials has been reintroduced to deny the state appropriate duties and taxes.A manual system resulting in a long room-like operation with agents reporting multi visits to see customs officers to expedite confirmation to shipping lines.
3From 28th to 30th May, 2020, the state did not collect duties and taxes at the port. This was meant to be for installing and operationalising seamless transition to an electronic end-to-end ICUMS Systems The state lost an estimated GHC100 million at the Ports.Why is the transition and actual ICUMS operations still manual after we lost about GHS100 million
4No entry has been processed at the Elubo border for one weekAll revenue for the state for one week completely lost to bogus UnipassManual system  called integrated.
5Entries are not going through at KIA and declarants are compelled to make payments against clearance to be corrected later.Manual collusion with customs officers eminent as importers are unlikely to return to perfect transactionsFully Manual with arbitrary and colluded duty valuations
6In Tema, no single end-to-end transaction has gone through since 1st JuneThis is how the system will operate even after the backlog of Wes Blue/GCNET transactions are cleared at excessive revenue loss to the stateNo functional end-to end system installed by Unipass at the Ports
7Out of 750 clearing agents on the Wes Blue/GCNET system, only 450 are able to access the dysfunctional ICUMS with no end product. About 300 agents cant access this bogus systemDelays and revenue loss as only 450 agents are doing the work of 750 agents in a manual system. Huge revenue losses to the stateIneffective manual operation
8I have seen a declaration for 2009 Honda Civic with zero duty assessed and a 2016 Chevrolet with GHc14 duty assessedHuge revenue losses to the state as the system allows agents to state the value of vehicles instead of Home Delivery values installed to automatically value vehiclesManual manipulations
9.Though out last week, no vehicle was cleared from safe bondHuge revenue losses and frustration of importersManual clearing
10All the instructions from GRA and Flow Charts of the new system does not speak to an electronic end-to-end system but a manual system with several expected modules and their operations missing in the directives and flow chartsPerpetual manual operations with dysfunctional standalone ICUMS systems leading to delays and revenue lossesManual
11There are no electronic bonded warehousing arrangements. Such goods are taken out of the port to locations not found on any electronic system for tracking and control to recover the appropriate duty.Huge revenue losses from manual warehousing of imports without an electronic system of tracking and revenue assuranceManual stealing
12Transhipments and export cargo for our neighbouring landlocked countries are manually released without electronic tracking and revenue assuranceThese cargoes will potentially not cross our borders but sold in Ghana without payment of duty and taxesManual stealing

Quite clearly, the ICUMS by Unipass is a scam and a means to re-introduce a manual system to loot national revenue from the port for Nana Addo’s pension and those of his ageing family and friends.

  • What is incredulous but speaks to the diabolism associated with the government’s decision to sacrifice the best for the worst is that neither the government nor the Ghana Link/UNIPASS have been able to show Ghanaians the system that they are coming to use to execute the questionable contract that the government sole-sourced to them.
  • The GCNET/West Blue system has been audited by both local and international agencies and has been acclaimed globally for its robustness and efficiency. The system has received some of the highest ISO certification for this as well as several local and international awards. West Blue for instance has won some of the most recognised national and international awards, including the World Customs Organisation’s International Best Practice Award, the National Information Technology Development e-Governance Award 2015, the Anas Aremeyaw Anas Transparency Award at the 2017 Ghana Shippers Awards and the Best Technology and Innovative Award at the 2017 Ghana Maritime and Shippers Award.
  • In the case of the Ghana Link/UNIPASS, they have no proper track record in the business and no verifiable superior systems that they are ready to deploy in Ghana or that they have deployed elsewhere. And that is a challenge I am throwing to both the government and the Ghana Link/UNIPASS cohorts to show to Ghanaians their system, where and how it was deployed and the track record in superiority. While at it, let me state that the closest anyone can affiliate Ghana Link to port services delivery is through its subsidiary, Africa Link Inspections Company Ltd (ALIC) in Sierra Leone. Information available indicate that ALIC was contracted by Sierra Leone to deliver an end-to-end system in 2012. However, as at January, 2020 when their contract was being terminated, they were yet to deliver a single project. The Company was found not only to have failed to implement important and vital components of their contract, but also to have in connivance with their parent company, Ghana Link, allegedly, manipulated financial records for tax evasion purposes. Again, the Sierra Leonean Authorities also found that ALIC had allegedly failed to pay taxes to the tune of Le45 billion. As a result, the government initiated steps for the abrogation of their contract with the company. Yet, this is the company thr Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government has sole-sourced our trade facilitation project to. But that is not even all.
  • In Ghana also, Ghana Link’s earlier scanning and valuation service was noted to be poor. I, therefore, dare the government and Ghana Link/UNIPASS to provide evidence of their activities that make them a better service provider and a better option to the existing robust end-to-end system that Ghana currently runs with GCNET and Wes Blue Consulting.
  • The confusion that ensued at the ports when the government decided to push out the tried and tested GCNet/West Blue Consulting system and bring in Ghana Link/UNIPASS who have no system, to start with, speaks volumes. There is no gainsaying that that confusion will only swell and blossom into huge losses in government revenues at the ports in the unlikely event that the government carries through with its dubious plan.

In spite of these negative factors, our government led by President Akufo-Addo has decided to replace companies that have been delivering improved services and revenues; companies that are acclaimed globally for their capacity and transparency (as shown by the awards mentioned earlier), with a company that has been found not only to be incompetent and incapable of delivering a Single Window system, but also allegedly, very corrupt.

  • I am aware that Dr Bawumia was launching some digital platform yesterday. It so sad that the lame duck Vice President has run away from his so-called paperless port project to embark on other such projects that can only last the selfish business interest of Nana. What is the live span of his digitisation project? One more Unipass or Kelni-GVG interest from Akufo Addo and his family people and we are back to a manual systems
  • I wish to inform Hon. Alan Kyeremantan that I respect him so much and would advise him to stay away from attempting to clean up the mess of Hon Osafo Marfo. If he refuses and allows himself to be destroyed, the people of Ghana will combine him and Osafo Marfo for posterity to deal with them.
  • The emergence of manual releases and clearing of cargo, manual warehousing of cargo, manual releases of export or transhipment cargo and engendering human interference in the clearing system is a deliberate attempt to abuse the port system and enrich private pockets at the expense of the state.
  • The only reason this can happen is when there are ulterior motives. Some of these are;
  • Contract Fees
  • Why will any government replace a cheaper system that is delivering its mandate with a more expensive one that is unproven to be superior?
  • As noted earlier, the combined fees paid to GCNET and West Blue for their services is 0.54% of FOB. With this Ghana Link/UNIPASS deal, government of Ghana has decided, for whatever reason, to pay 0.75% of FOB.
  • This was after granting Ghana Link duty- and tax-free importation of their inputs (which GCNET and West Blue do not enjoy).
  • Who is ripping Ghanaian importers of the 0.21% FOB? Why will any responsible Government not motivated by greed and corruption charge its citizens more for poor and untested system that simple due diligence in Sierra Leon shows is unworkable?
  • The question to President Akufo-Addo is; what specific addition is Ghana Link/UNIPASS bringing on to warrant the extra 0.21% of FOB? Why is government providing Ghana Link with inordinately higher fees for a service that is being provided at a lower cost? Ghanaians want to know why they will be paying more for this unproven system. This is why I cannot resist the termination to state that this project is beginning to lend itself to somebody’s pension project where everything must be done to ensure that it is successfully through to deliver the needed kickbacks for that person when the NPP exits power in January 2021.
  • But that is nation-wrecking. It is sacrificing a collective and national good for an individual’s selfish and heartless gains. That is why the continuous push of this project makes it obvious that the Akufo-Addo-Bawumia government is recklessly trying to erode the gains that successive governments have made in trade facilitation in Ghana. This GCNET/Wes Blue concept is one of the only projects that each government in the Forth Republic has built upon. The Akufo-Addo government will be the only one to depart from this. And strangely, they are doing so, so recklessly that the potential of saddling the country with substantial judgment debt couldn’t be higher. My believe is that the puppet masters pulling the strings for this transaction could only be motivated by what they stand to gain privately. Those people must be reminded that dawn is on the horizon and they will answer.
  • I wish to call on all well-meaning Ghanaians to resist this heinous fraud being visited on Ghanaian importers and business community by Nana Addo and Osafo Marfo and call on the President to cancel the Unipass deal and allow the sanctity of contracts to prevail by restoring and allowing Wes Blue/GCNET contracts to run their unexpired terms.

By Isaac Adongo, MP and economist

Source: Daily Mail GH

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