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‘Freight forwarders frustrating paperless operation at the ports’

The use of fake invoices and fictitious customs claims to clear consignments at the ports appears

to be on the increase in spite of the paperless clearance system deployed at the country’s ports a week ago.

While the paperless system is to eliminate fraud and facilitate speedy clearance of goods, the alleged submission of fake

invoices is still delaying the process at the Tema Port, leading to protracted agitationsamong agents since the system

officially went live September 4, 2017.

 

A Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr Kwaku Kwarteng, who paid an unannounced visit to the Tema Port to witness the processes at first hand, was forced to leave

unceremoniously when the agitations heightened.

Fraud

The Daily Graphic has gathered that importers and agents in their quest to declare lower values of imports in order to beat down duties on

imports have conceived their own means of generating their invoices locally.

According to customs sources, the invoices were often presented to replace the genuine documents, which the agents destroy.

The source indicated that the level of compliance among importers and agents was still low as about 95 per cent of documentation on imports

being pushed onto the electronic platform did not possess the true values of the cargo cost.

“They continue to present invoices that are not in agreement with values declared as items imported. The true values are often way above the

invoice price presented,” the source said.

For instance, the documents sighted by the Daily Graphic on some selected imports indicated that an Accra-based importer (name withheld) imported

from Lebanon three 20-footer containers of steel plates used for manufacturing gas cylinders and one 40-footer container, all weighing 107.52 tonnes,

were valued at $4,839.90 per container, but the system determined the actual value to be $66,662.40.

The same importer on July 28, 2017 presented an invoice on a similar consignment in five 20-footer container with each weighing 133.3 tonnes and

declared the value as $5,415, instead of $80,798.40 which the system pointed out to be.

Several other invoices issued on two 40-footer new refrigerators, which weighed 116 tonnes and should have been valued at about $45,000, but the

fake documents invoiced them at $11,168.

The disparities between the declared values and assess values of imports, the source indicated, was worrying, as the test value of imports

did not always match the transaction values.

“With the introduction of the paperless and the quest to facilitate easy clearance of imports, Customs is unable to check for short collections,

that is the differences in revenue from under declaration by importers, since speedy clearance has become a dictate we must fulfil,” the source indicated.

 

Investigations

When contacted, the Commissioner of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), Mr Isaac Crentsil, said a number of such cases

had been referred to the Customs Prosecution Unit for investigations.

The investigation, he said, was to enable officials gather adequate evidence that could be used to prosecute importers and agents

that could be found culpable.

He, however, suggested that the Customs Act made it mandatory for persons found to have made false declarations to be penalised

to pay 300 per cent of the value of the imports.

“When you bring in an invoice and it is suspected to be fake, we often would check previous transactions or use commodity benchmark

to increase the values of which the importer is made to pay penalties up to 300 per cent,” Mr Crentsil said.

He said another importer mis-described a consignment at the Golden Jubilee Terminal in the Tema Port in an attempt

to evade Customs applying the penalty regime.“If such an importer is found out for the second or third time, he would be prosecuted in line with regulations

governing Customs,” Mr Crentsil suggested.

 

Agent responds

An agent, Mr Richard Nana Amoako, told the Daily Graphic that the challenges with the paperless system resulted

from the incoherent operational manual on the paperless.He added that the scheduling of mandatory joint inspections was haphazardly done, thereby resulting in delays.

Mr Amoako said the response to his electronic application last Tuesday for inspection came on Friday and read:

“Your joint inspection examination with number J2010709080000604 has been submitted successfully awaiting schedule.

You will be notified on the progress”.

He suggested that the manual processes ought to have been operated alongside the electronic interface until such

time that it could be phased out.

“The paperless project is an amazing one, but we need to create synergy between the various players if we are to

achieve the level of reforms being envisaged,” Mr Amoako suggested.

 

Complaint centre

Mr Amoako stressed the need for a complaint centre to address grievances and challenges of importers.

Also, the technical service providers ought to adequately invest by building on their infrastructure to absorb the demand on the system.

“The system’s inability to contain the huge volumes of applications being uploaded clearly shows that firewalls are not strong enough,

and the service providers ought to address those shortcomings,” Mr Amoako stated.

Asked about the submission of fake documentations by some agents, Mr Amoako suggested the need for Customs to publicly name and shame persons engaged in such fraudulent acts to serve as deterrent to the rest.