Once again, as was widely anticipated, the latest effort to replace the erstwhile international trade facilitation platform deployed by GC Net and West Blue Consulting, with a new one, deployed by Ghana Link in collaboration with South Korea’s Cupea, at the Tema Port has proved fraught with challenges. There is no surprise in this; even after using the new platform at the Takoradi Port for the past two months, freight forwarders still have a litany of complaints. It was naïve at best to think that a change of name, from UNIPASS to ICUMS, would by itself resolve the new platform’s shortcomings.
This newspaper has been at the forefront of the lobby for the return to the GC Net/West Blue platform which costs less for users and clearly works better than what is being presented as its replacement.
However, it is now clear to us that government is adamant about seeing the change of platform through, no matter the inconveniences and costs to shippers and their clearing agents. Therefore, for the sake of pragmatism, if nothing else, we are forced to review our stance, from outright opposition to that of seeking ways to make the new platform work with minimal damage to Ghana’s credentials as a preferred destination for international trade.
To be sure, we understand government’s basic premise that an end to end platform, managed by one vendor, such as the one offered by ICUMS, is potentially better than the one being replaced, involving two different vendors each of whom handles different aspects of the process. However, the implementation challenges plaguing the new system are largely defeating the purpose of the switch over which is supposed to improve the efficiency of the trade facilitation process, not make it more problematic.
Therefore we call on all stakeholders to put heads together to iron out the challenges, before Ghana is red-flagged by counter party trading nations for the delays that visiting ships suffer and even longer delays suffered by foreign exporters.
Indeed, we call on GC Net and West Blue to hand over their respective platforms to Ghana Link. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the successful implementation of the contract entered into by government and Ghana Link depends on the hand -over of those platforms and both parties did not envisage the refusal of the outgoing contractors to co-operate in this regard.
Certainly, GC Net in particular, which is seeing its ongoing contract abrogated to accommodate the new platform, would demand heavy compensation for this. But we believe that it is worth it since the alternatives are even more unpalatable; if the new platform continues to underperform, effective import costs will rise significantly for shippers and ultimately their customers, including end users of products, will have to pay the price. And if government decides to abrogate the new contract to avoid this, it would have to pay some US$97 million in compensation to Ghana Link as per the terms of the sole sourced contract.
Therefore, we suggest that government negotiates to compensate GC Net with a lesser amount in order to secure its platform for Ghana Link.
Besides this, there is the urgent need for holistic training for all freight forwarders on how to use the new platform. While government claims this has been done in the past, it is evident from ongoing complaints that much more still needs to be done in this regard.
It is time for critics of the change -over to give up the fight – it is evident that government will stick to its guns, no matter the cost to all stakeholders. So instead, all stakeholders need to work together to make the new system work.
Whether the situation is fair or not no longer matters; what does is that Ghana should remain considered as a worthwhile trade destination.