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August 6, 2020
Front Page Ghana

Trade Minister fights GCNet over UNIPASS

Minister for Trade and Industry, Alan Kwadwo Kyeremanten, has stated that the government settled on the UNIPASS technology after painstaking search and much consideration. 

He averred that the multiplicity of service providers within Ghana’s customs management space, the lack of systems alignment, and the difficulty in achieving complete interoperability of the different systems adversely affected customs operations. 

The Government, he said, is therefore committed to the newly introduced technology and charged the relevant stakeholders to address any outstanding issues arising from the transition from the Customs Management System to the new end-to-end trade facilitation regime. 

The Minister stated these in response to a petition by Ghana Community Network Services Ltd (GCNet) in which they raised a number of issues against the deployment of the new system. 

Government, he said, acknowledged it entered into an Original Agreement and subsequently extended it by two Supplemental Agreements ending December 2023. 

He averred, however, that since the majority shareholder in GCNet, SGS Societe Generale de Surveillance SA is a foreign company; there was a requirement for the two agreements to have been approved by Parliament as international agreements pursuant to Article 81 (5) of the Constitution. 

“Since this was not done, the said agreements are void in accordance with precedent as declared by the Supreme Court.” 

“Your petition recognizes that the majority shareholder of your company is a foreign entity, which reinforces the position that the Supplemental Agreements are void for lack of constitutional compliance,” he stated. 

The Minister stressed that claims by GCNet that steps have been taken to reduce the foreign shareholding by divesting 30% of the foreign equity do not annul the fact that the company is still foreign-dominated.  

He maintained that statement by GCNet that is a full-fledged end-to-end system that processes all customs operational regimes is not accurate. 

He said, There have been several other private vendors who have co-existed with GCNet over the years performing different roles and responsibilities within Ghana’s trade facilitation and customs management regime.” 

He stated that the government appreciates the substantive contributions made by the GCNet system since its inceptions but stressed there have been operational challenges that have been captured in various audits and reviews of the system over the years. 

“To, therefore, claim the GCNet system is versatile, robust with no system breaches since its inception is far from the truth.” 

Mr. Kyeremanten explained that Article 10.5 of the Original Agreement requires GCNet to ensure the Government was granted a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, fully-paid license to use and modify the software, including source and object codes used by the CSM and TradeNet systems as customized in accordance with Government requirements. 

He said, “GCNet has currently refused to provide relevant data and information on its operation in spite of Article 10.5 of the Original Agreement. The Government of Ghana does not have any proprietary rights over the GCNet system.” 

“In contrast, however, the Government will have the full proprietary rights over the new UNI-PASS system and the source codes will be fully owned by the Government.” 

He expressed sympathy with GCNet staff that may lose their jobs as a result of the new trade facilitation system but warned the government will contest any claim for loss of earnings and demobilization.  

He rejected claims that the government is in violation of GCNet IP rights because it has the right to use and modify the GCNet system as provided for in Article 10.5 of the Original Agreement. 

Mr. Kyeremanten described as false claims that UNIPASS technology has not been deployed or tested anywhere in the world. 

“The UNI-PASS technology has been deployed successfully in Tanzania since 2015 under the name Tancis, which the World Customs Organization (WCO) has acclaimed as one of the best innovative trade facilitation systems.”  

“Cameroun, like Ghana, is about to deploy the same technology after successfully developing its system early this year.” 

“In Ecuador in South America, the system has successfully been deployed since 2010. But perhaps the best place to see the efficacy of this customs management technology is in South Korea itself where, since 1998, it has been deployed to successfully manage their complex and far bigger customs operations, he stated. 

He noted that there has been comprehensive programme in Ghana over the past year building the capacity and training various levels of staff of the Customs Division of the GRA and officials of other relevant stakeholders. 

He added that during this period simulation exercises as well as scalability and stress tests of the new system have been conducted and they have all proven favourable. 

Frontpageghana.com/Ghana/Uthman A. Marani

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