Despites applauds to government for its preparedness to help promote and facilitate speedy clearing of goods at the ports through initiating a paperless port, forces within the maritime trade have risen against the government’s effort.

Freight forwarders and other stakeholders in the country have registered their displeasure against the Vice President’s directive for paperless transactions at the ports by September 1, stating that much education has not been carried out to sensitise them on the processes of the paperless transactions.

Hundreds of the freight forwarders staged a demonstration against Customs and the government at the customs Long Room at the Tema Port.

The agitating clearing agents called for the suspension of the paperless transaction.

The freight forwarders have also expressed worry that some of them would be kicked out of business if the paperless system is implemented by September 1.

The President of the Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, Kwabena Ofosu Appiah has lamented that the interdiction of 218 senior and junior officers of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) who work at the Tema Port is hampering operations at the Customs Technical Services Bureau.

He said the issue is delaying the clearance of goods at the ports.

Similarly, shippers are mounting pressure on the government to delay the full implementation of the paperless processing of customs clearance at the ports to at least February 2018.

The pressure comes barely 5 days to the September 1, 2017 deadline set by the government to make all transactions at the ports paperless.

Following the directive, agencies at the ports have on Friday (August 18) initiated the pilot phase of the paperless system to test the process ahead of the deadline.

But the shippers have expressed dismay towards that directive, saying the various agencies at the ports have not prepared enough for the full implementation of the paperless transaction.

The shippers registered their resentment against the new system yet to take effect at a forum on ports clearance by the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) held in Accra.

The Executive Secretary of Importers and Exporters Association (IEA), Mr Samson Awingobit Asaaki noted after the forum that, instead of the September deadline, the government must take gradual approach to fully implement the paperless clearance process.

“Though we do not want to preempt that agencies at the ports are not fully ready for the September deadline,” he said shippers had not been properly sensitised about the new system.

He explained that adopting gradual approach towards the implementation of the new clearance system was crucial to help ensure that all the challenges and bottlenecks were effectively addressed.

“But one can read clearly from the responces I got from the Customs Deputy Commissioner, Mr Richard Yawutse at the event that the country had not entirely prepared towards the September deadline,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government has been commended for facilitating the upcoming paperless port system that has been in the pipeline since 2012.

Project Development Manager of the Ghana Community Network Services (GCNet), Carl Sackey, said although the September 1, 2017, dateline for the implementation of the initiative is just hitting public knowledge, ground works started a long time ago.

Mr. Sackey’s company is a stakeholder in the sector and the foremost information technology company which provides trade facilitation services for the country.

“Paperless actually started in 2012. It is not new. What is happening now is the Executive support and I think that it is important that we commend the government. Because if you want to do any initiative this if you don’t have the Executive support if will fail,” he said.

Despite recording impressive cargo traffic volumes, operations at Ghana’s ports have been described by importers and exporters as a cumbersome process due to scarce automation processes.

Middlemen, popularly called ‘goro boys’, have also been blamed for many instances of underhand dealings at the ports.

According to statistics from GHPHA, total cargo traffic volumes at the Port of Tema in 2016 rose by 1,269,288 tonnes, a 10.5% increase over the previous year’s performance.

The import sector, according to GHPHA, was particularly successful with local and transit imports increasing by 8.4% and 19.6% respectively over its 2015 performance.

Even though there was a decline in Transit exports overall Transit traffic increased by 19.4% last year.

There was also a very significant 25.3% increase in local exports in 2016 derived from respective increases in Shea nuts, steel plates, NAPHTA, aluminium ingots and general containerised traffic.

Attempt to go paperless at the country’s ports and harbours have suffered a five-year drag because stakeholders in the value chain were found to be unprepared.

The current paperless project is being spearheaded by the Vice President, Mahamudu Bawumia, and is part of government’s commitment to formalise the economy and to reduce the bottle necks at the country’s ports.

Also, the President of Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), Barima Ofori Ameyaw, urge shippers to help the implementation of the paperless clearance process to reduce corruption at the ports.

“For us as GUTA, we welcome the implementation of a full paperless clearing process but we urged all agencies to collaborate among themselves to remove all the bottlenecks that will emanate from the implementation of the new system,” he said.

“Because the ports in Ghana were not presently attractive within the West African sub-region, we are losing all our businesses to neighbouring countries,” he added. The Vice-President Dr Mahamadu Bawumia directed the removal of all customs road barriers effective September 1 this year as part of three major policy initiatives to help boost trade and make the ports more competitive in the West African sub-region.

The others are mandatory joint inspection of goods at the ports by all concerned agencies and the ports going paperless.

However, shippers from September 1, 2017, expects cargo to be cleared from the seaport within four hours, a smooth transition from manual processing to automated processing and a 100 per cent automation and harmonisation of processes between stakeholding agencies that matter.

They also expects removal of all bottlenecks at the ports, minimal interaction with personnel shipper is compliant and implementation of paperless process be done at both seaports in the country.

A Deputy Commissioner of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Mr Richard Yawutse told the paper after the event that the platform for the paperless clearing process had already been provided by the Ghana Community Network Services Limited (GCNet) and West Blue Consulting.

“This platform is expected to provide connectivity between the concerned agencies at the ports to ensure smooth operations of the paperless transactions,” he said. He stressed that all stakeholders have been engaged about the development at the ports following the government’s directive to ensure 100 per cent paperless transaction at the ports.

“If you take all of these preparations into consideration then we should be able to begin the implementation of the programme in September as directed by the Vice- President,” he said.

He observed that the pilot phase of the project had been initiated to help stakeholders within the industry get a fair idea of what exactly to expect when the full implementation begins.

“The pilot phase of the paperless project will also help implementers to identify challenges that had not been anticipated in order to address it,” he added.

The acting Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, Paul Asare Ansah has assured that the paperless transaction will instead speed up the clearing processes at the ports and increase the revenue of the Authority.

He charged the workers to give off their best in the discharge of their duties and eschew corrupt acts that will dent the image of the organisation.

The Director of Tema Port of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GHPA), Edward Osei explained the staff that, the paperless system will enhance the efficiency at Ghana’s ports.

-Adnan Adams Mohammed