Exactly twenty months ago, on the 1st of September, 2017, His Excellency the Vice President Alhaji Dr Mahamudu Bawumia caused the abolishment of all internal checkpoints manned by personnel of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA).
The intention was to accelerate the movement of goods, failing to take into consideration the negative ripple effects.
The Chronicle prior to putting it into action cautioned the policy makers not to lose sight of facilitating trade at the expense of revenue and security of the state.
Since then, it has been established that whilst the Tema port where greater chunks of the nation’s imports are routed started experiencing reductions in vessel calls.
Ironically, its immediate competitor to the east, the free port of Lome in Togo was having lot of vessels queuing at the anchorage waiting for their turn to enter the port.
A careful study by the Chronicle revealed that majority of importers to Ghana have abandoned the Tema port due to what they state were higher import duties and therefore channeled Ghana bound imports through the francophone free port.
It is alleged that most of these consignments eventually land on our soil and by what means, our probe uncovered.
The primary modus operandi is preparing these goods as in transit to neighboring Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso but allegedly ends up on the local market.
Smuggling, under invoicing and under declarations have become the order of the day with no internal checkpoints to intercept and rake in revenue for the state.
The Chronicle gathered that in jurisdictions where the free movements are permissible, the compliance level of importers are high.
They also have the appropriate technology to track the goods for all the customs regimes, warehousing, transit, imports, exports/re exports and free zones among others.
However, same cannot be said of the monitoring system in the country where there are occasional reports of diversions even though the said policing devices are fitted on them.
In order to keep a check on the movement of goods within the country, customs has put in place a Rapid Deployment Team (RDT) which has jurisdiction across the country from the headquarters.
The Preventive Operations Unit (POU) also based at the headquarters has personnel stationed at Dawhenya in the Greater Accra Region on the Tema-Aflao transcontinental highway and another group at Atimpoku in the Eastern Region, strategically to trap smugglers using the Ho route.
With all these armed units in place, it beats one’s imagination as to how smugglers can escape from the net and lead to the state losing revenue.
Fact is that each time these long vehicles loaded with imported items which always move with ‘pilots’ are stopped for routine inspection and discrepancies detected, phone calls come from ‘higher places’ to reportedly threaten the officers involved to either allow the goods to go or risk being sacked from the service.
The Customs Division is awash with several of these intimidating reports and some of these known professional facilitators of smuggling scornfully go about bragging with supposed links up somewhere.
The Chronicle is withholding names of these facilitators and their alleged collaborators in the said high places.
Recently, the Kumasi Sector Commander told the media of how his men intercepted an articulated truck loaded with cooking oil without the requisite customs documentation he claimed was smuggled through the volta lake.
If his assertion is anything to go by, does it means that the smugglers have adopted the Volta lake as a route to outwit the system for their nefarious activities and what remedies are the authorities looking at.
Readily, the reintroduction of the defunct boat unit of Customs which was based in Sogakope comes to mind.
On security after the abolishment of the checkpoints, first is the discovery in an Accra hotel of a cache of ordnances and the kidnapped Takoradi girls.
The Chronicle’s intelligence has it that the explosives were routed through a number of sahel states before finally landing in the country, specifically, Accra.
Till date, it is not known how they were moved from our borders to the capital and being hawked before the security agencies picked signals of their presence.
Our sources in the nation’s security set ups in conjecture stated that those found might only be a tip of the iceberg and prayed that the intelligence agencies may not be slow in clearing the system of any undesirables
Now the puzzle is, has the abolishment of Customs internal checkpoints improved revenue and security of the state and the answer is a resounding Big No, and since a stitch in time saves nine.
The policy makers must not shy away from the prevailing fact and bring back these barriers.
The paper a few weeks ago reported alleged harassments and extortions on the roads of importers by members of Private revenue collection taskforces.
Insider sources believes that the situation where smuggling and insecurity are rife as a result of the absence of checkpoints culminated in individuals creating revenue task forces only for some to abuse it.
Source: The Chronicle