With cargo traffic eligible to be handled by the newly contracted UNIPASS trade facilitation platform rising at the Takoradi sea port, government is intensifying its pressure on the national single window operators, GC Net and Customs World (until recently known as West Blue Consulting), to hand over its eminently successful platform to UNIPASS, to rectify the latter’s continued shortcomings. However both partners continue to dig in their heels, refusing government’s request, which indeed appears to have no legal backing; the law recognizes the partner’s single window platform – used in Ghana since 2016 – as their proprietary property.
This imbroglio is raising worries among the various trade sector stakeholders at the Takoradi port of a possible systems failure as the UNIPASS platform appears overwhelmed by the demands on it since it began being used at the beginning of April
Actually, both UNIPASS platform operational partners, CUIPEA of South Korea and Ghana Link, as well as government itself, foresaw this problem and consequently inserted the hand -over of the outgoing platform designed and deployed by GC Net and West Blue, as a requisite condition for implementation of the new trade facilitation platform. Apparently however they did not foresee the refusal of the platform designers and original operators to agree to hand-over their platform to their proposed replacement, who government had contracted, through sole sourcing, to take over their responsibilities, mid- way through their contract, and at a higher cost to importers and their agents.
The Trade Facilitation Agreement between the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ghana Link states that the Agreement shall come into effect only when, among other things: “The Government has handed over the GC Net and any other third party single window operators platforms, including the country’s single window trade applications and other import services relating to the processing of customs documents”.
Faced with the possibility of yet another failure, government has intensified its efforts to get GC Net and West Blue to hand over their operating systems. This is instructive – stakeholders and public policy analysts alike insist that there is no difference between the original platform and the new one – with the exception of the identity of its operators and its higher charges – but while GC Net and West Blue, having designed it in the first place, know how to use it, the UNIPASS partners were simply expecting to simply inherit it, lacking the ability to deploy it.
Instructively, West Blue has actually taken UNIPASS to court, accusing it of pirating the software its platform runs on. The case is still being adjucated by an Accra High Court.
Both GC Net and West Blue have publicly declared their refusal to hand over their platforms, which they assert are their proprietary property under commercial law. Legal experts confirm the validity of this stance. However both parties have accepted to pass over data collected in the fulfillment of their contractual obligations.
But their refusal to hand over software and hardware is raising fears in government as to the implications of a compensation clause in its agreement with UNIPASS to the effect that if its contract is terminated within one year of commencement – or government fails to fulfill its obligations in facilitating its implementation – then Ghana would have to pay the UNIPASS operators US$92.97 million in compensation. Some legal experts are now raising concerns that failure to secure the GC Net platform for UNIPASS to use – as the latter is proving unable to deploy an adequately working platform of its own – could be interpreted as a failure by government to meet its obligations that is crucial to the successful implementation of the contract. In effect this means the possibility of Ghana having to pay compensation to a partnership which never had the capability to fulfill its contract in the first place.