A major concern for importers in the country has been the cumbersome procedures involved in the clearance of goods. This results in a lot of cargo piling up at the port which runs counter to the paperless port system introduced in September 2017 to move the import process via an online system to capture all relevant import information on a database.
Even though the idea of the paperless port system is to make the clearance process easier and help ease the congestions and create enough space for port activities, most importers still have problems clearing their goods at the port. Notwithstanding the technical challenges of the paperless port system, some importers normally attribute their inability to clear their goods at the port to high import duties but officials at the port believe otherwise.
The Chief Revenue Officer in Charge of the State Warehouse, Customs Division of GRA, George Tettey, attributed the menace of forfeited goods at the ports of Ghana to ignorance of customs laws and procedures.
He highlighted that cargoes that are not cleared at the ports of Ghana within the stipulated 21 days for general goods and 60 days for vehicles are by law forfeited which implies that they are the property of the state.
He thus advised importers to ensure that all requirements such as fees and charges including import duties as well as the fees of the various service providers in the clearance chain are satisfied on time so that their goods are not enlisted in the Uncleared Cargo List.
According to him, when forfeited cargoes are confiscated, examination and valuation are done for about 3 months, thereafter, goods are enlisted and gazetted for public auction. Within this period, an importer who has lost his uncleared cargo to the state could apply to customs via the Commissioner-General of the Ghana Revenue Authority to make considerations based on the assessment of the importer’s plea.
The importer in this case may be granted the opportunity to either begin the clearance process again to clear his cargo, where he would have to satisfy the fees of the various service providers in the clearance chain.
More recently, the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority organized separate public auction exercises at the Safebond and Atlas terminals in Tema to sell to the general public overstayed vehicles. The auctioning of the overstayed vehicles, according to port officials, is part of efforts to mop-up revenue which is under Sections 93 (1) and 59 (2) of the Customs Act which mandates them to carry out that act.
Successful bidders were required to pay 30% non-refundable fees of the amount they bid as down payment and pay the rest within 14 days or forfeit it.
Alternatively, in the case where duty payments have been made after forfeiture of goods, the Importer could be given a replacement of other forfeited goods of equivalent value. But here again, comes the question that begs for answers: is this replacement the same as the forfeited goods?
Whilst ignorance of the law is no excuse, the recent hardships inflicted on businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic make it very important for the GRA and the port officials to constantly organize sensitization programs to educate the Ghanaian importers on the Custom Laws of the country. The trading public must be made to understand the appropriate procedures involved after they have failed to clear their goods within the legally prescribed duration.
Alternatively, the GRA may consider either reducing the rates on some of the goods or give additional days as a grace period for importers to be able to clear their goods since business activities have not fully returned to normal. This will help reduce the risk of importers forfeiting their goods at the ports.