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The government has announced plans to implement the “First Port Duty Rule” in Ghana’s ports by the end of the year to tackle increasing smuggling arising from diverted transit goods supposedly meant for landlocked countries.

Under the First Port Duty Rule, Customs officials from landlocked nations would be stationed at Ghana’s Ports and importers would be directed to the appropriate country’s desk to pay the required duties if indeed, they are transit goods.

The move has become necessary because studies have shown that many goods intended for transit to the landlocked countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are either unloaded and sold in Ghana or smuggled through unapproved routes, thereby depriving both Ghana and the intended final destination countries the needed duties.

Vice President Bawumia made the announcement at the opening of the 39th Council and Conference of Ports Management Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA) in Accra, on Monday.

“Best Practices in the Management of Ports Lands” was the theme chosen for the four-day event, which attracted Chief Executive and Managing Directors of ports within the West and Central Africa region.

The PMAWCA is an inter-regional economic organisation with members stretching from Mauritania, Cape Verde, Liberia, La Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Angola, including landlocked countries.

The conference would enable experts and stakeholders in the maritime industry to deliberate on challenges facing the sector, share ideas and profess appropriate solutions, as well as respond to the changing dynamics of the sector.

Vice President Bawumia said the government’s acceptance to host the meeting demonstrated her commitment to the improvement of ports operations, not only in Ghana but in the Sub-region in line with her vision to make the nation the destination of choice in doing business.

“So much smuggling is taking place through transit trade to neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Not only does Ghana lose, the other countries also lose revenue when unapproved routes are used,” he noted.

The Vice President expressed government’s commitment to improving her business practices, particularly in the area of ports business, including trade relations with her landlocked neighbours to enhance economic growth.

To that end, government had undertaken a series of trade missions to those countries to strengthen business ties and to demonstrate her commitment to making Ghana’s ports and corridors friendlier for their patronage.

He said trade within the Sub-region would not thrive if ECOWAS countries failed to enforce rules and regulations regarding trade and, therefore, urged ECOWAS countries to enforce the implementation of the Axle Road Policy, which mandated all member countries to limit a six-axle truck to a 60-tonne loading capacity.

He said Ghana had implemented the Axle Road Policy since 2009 when the enforcement came into effect, noting that, the Policy intended to protect road infrastructure in the Sub-region from early deterioration.

Unfortunately, he said, it had been reported that not all ECOWAS member countries were complying with the policy, which undermined regional co-operation and create an atmosphere of unfairness in transit trade on the various corridors in the Sub-region.

Vice President Bawumia said there was huge potential in ports operations that could propel economic growth in the various countries and made reference to some strides Ghana had made in the port’s operations.

He noted that between 70 to 90 movements of containers per hour had been recorded in the recent past due to the improvement in the country’s ports infrastructure and equipment.

Dr Bawumia cited the operation of the paperless port rolled out last year by the government, which had reduced the turnaround time, cost of doing business and brought some level of efficiency at the ports, while internal customs barriers had been removed to ensure smooth operations and movement of goods and services.

“As a result of the paperless system, today about 43 per cent of importers are able to clear their goods in 24 hours and about 70 per cent are able to do so in three days,” he added.

He said in June this year, the government also rolled out new reforms to enhance service delivery in the ports, including the reduction of the number of regulatory agencies undertaking joint inspections at the ports from 16 to three, and abolished the compliance stage of the clearance process.

“The operations of the customs offices in the famous “longroom” have been automated with system-to-system integration and this had removed the need for importers waiting in long queues to see a compliance officer for their final duty assessment.

“It has also removed the power of the customs officer to assess duty based on discretion,” Dr Bawumia stated.

These policy reforms, the Vice President noted intended to reduce human element in ports transactions, improve the clearance process, provide automation and systems integration of the various strategic stakeholders, as well as reduce the stress of processing business transactions and secure national revenue collection.

To improve the strides made so far, Dr Bawumia said the information technology platforms of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority and the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) should be integrated.

This, he said, required that the GPHA should have a terminal operating system that could interact with that of the Customs’ system for a seamless interoperable integration between the two institutions to prevent importers from evading payment of the required duties.

The Vice President acknowledged the huge potentials of the port in enhancing the country’s economy and, promised to make intense efforts to further improve the performance to rival the very best in international trade.

He alluded to the expansion programme at the Takoradi and Tema Ports, noting that, for instance, the expansion of Tema Port would improve container throughput from one million to 3.5 million per annum.

The ongoing construction works of a multi-purpose container terminal in Takoradi Port would handle one million throughputs against the current 60,000, noting that, the expansion of the two seaports would position the nation to handle about 4.5 million container traffic upon completion.

Mr Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, the Minister of Transport, expressed optimism that recommendations from the meeting would help countries in the Sub-region to deal decisively with maritime challenges.

Source:Myjoyonline.com

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