Some government officials and officers of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), have devised ways and means to circumvent the much-touted paperless system at the country’s ports meant to improve revenue collection into state coffers.
The breaking of the system, is being done to favour an importer of frozen foods, who is a key financier of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Eunice Jacqueline Buah, the Western Regional representative to the Council of State.
Instead of paying what had been generated by the system based on the size of her import, fresh documents are generated outside the paperless system by customs officers at Tema Port manually, stating preferred charges for her to pay. She ends up paying less than what is required, compared to other importers of the same products.
The Tema-based woman, popularly known as LaBianca, had her two companies; White Stone Frozen Foods Limited and M&JEES Company, benefitting immensely from the deliberate disparity engineered by the officers at the Ministry of Finance and the GRA, as result of her membership of the NPP.
The Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, recently claimed that an initial assessment of the implementation of the paperless system at the country’s ports, has shown a revenue collection improvement of 56 percent.
According to Dr. Bawumia, revenue at the ports, increased from GH¢130 million in the first week of September 2016, to GH¢213 million in the same period for 2017.
But it clear that, these gains will be eroded on the back of favoritism, cronyism and political opportunism.
The disparity has forced some importers to be up in arms over unequal tax system.
The Frozen Food Importers Association of Ghana, therefore, wants the Akufo-Addo government, to address the preferential values for duty or taxes charges, given to White Stone Frozen Foods Limited and M&JEES Company on their imported products at the ports.
According to them, government, has subsidized taxes on imported products for one company, thereby creating unfair competition in the frozen foods industry.
The Association, believes if this is not checked, the industry, will be hit by massive layoffs and fold-ups, as its members who double as owners of companies, are unable to pay workers.
In a letter addressed to the GRA, the Association through its lawyers, argued that the situation, has created wide disparity in the value regime and undermined competition in the industry.
Vice President of the Frozen Food Importers Association of Ghana, Charles K. Ansah, who spoke to Citi Business News said, government must endeavor to ensure all players pay equal duties at the ports to prevent further collapse of the affected companies.
“The industry is confronted with thirty five percent tax so the tax issues are very disturbing to begin with. It must be on record that if you look at it, it is not realistic. So that is actually what is crippling most of us in the industry and the fact that it is giving another person the leverage makes the story totally different altogether. For poultry product it is 35 plus 17.5%”.
“So our position now, has been made loud and clear; let us all pay same duty across board until we come out with realistic duty for all the players in the industry”.
The Frozen Food Importers, raised fresh objection to treatment being meted out to them by officials of the Customs Division of GRA, which has created, a huge disparity in the value chain regime, undermining fair competition at the nation’s main Port.
It is the second time, this year that the importers are crying foul after earlier protests in June, where they complained against unfair competition as a result of preferential values for duty/tax purposes, favouring two alleged companies, belonging to the governing NPP financier, Eunice Jacqueline Buah.
The Herald reported months ago, that the two companies were charged between $0.60 to 0.64 cents as customs value per kilogram on a Frozen Chicken Leg Quarters and a Chicken Back, goes for between $0.35 to 0.38 cents that is brought into the country, compared to its competitors being charged $0.90 cents to $1 dollar and $0.7 to 0.80 dollar cent per kilogram respectively on the same frozen items.
Madam Buah’s unfair business dealings according to The Herald sources, threw many of these importers out of business sending home many workers, whose daily bread depends on the frozen food business.
However, due to a quick intervention by the Commissioner General of the GRA, after this paper reported on the happenings at the Port and the Mr. Nti met with the importers, the matter was somewhat resolved within a very short period of time with a promise to the importers to fully rectify the matter by September, this year.
But shockingly, the GRA, has gone back to the preferential treatment for NPP financier, to the detriment of other importers.
Madam Buah, apart from the her position as a Council of State member, has also been placed on the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) board, making her an influential person in the industry feared by many, including custom officers.
With her party in office and her closeness to many people, including the first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, she get her way around things by circumventing the rules.
A petition from the importers to GRA boss and cited by The Herald reads; “Our clients further refers to a meeting held with you on the 5th day of July 2017 which your office accepted to lower the valuation for the rest of the industry to acceptable world market prices and initiate measures from the beginning of September 2017, to make the value transparent and reflective of the general world prices and thus avoid the wide disparity in the values that they have experienced”.
Few months into the resolution of the issue, the importers are back in the news complaining bitterly about activities of these same Custom officials, who have reneged on the directive by their boss.
According to a petition addressed to the Commissioner General of GRA, the importers say the action by the Custom officials stationed at the Tema Port has led to differences in charges by the GRA customs division, as happened in June.
With the reappearance of the preferential treatment, the poultry importers who are unable to compete with their politically connected colleague have been left in the cold, unable to clear their goods, allowing her companies, to have field day to import for the big market space.
The latest petition dated October 10, 2017 issued on behalf of the importers by their lawyers Globetrotters Legal Africa, has been dispatched to Ministers of Finance, Trade and Industry, Senior Minister, Chief of Staff and others.
It lamented that “the Customs Division has reneged on the assurances you gave our client by approving preferential values for one company in the industry”.
The group disclosed that the differences in the amount charged have led to job cuts as they are unable to compete fairly at the Port and so are unable to cater for more hands.
“The wide disparity created by the grant of these values has resulted in the laying of workers threatening to push many of the members of our Client’s organization out of business due to huge losses sustained between July-September 2017”, they cried.
The disturbed importers pleaded with the GRA boss, Mr. Nti to revise the decision especially as the Christmas festivities approach so that beginning next year, clear and transparent measures are put in place to sustain the frozen foods industry.
“For the above reason, our Clients petitions your office to revise the benchmark values by replacing them with the preferential values attached from now to December 2017 while you take steps to implement a transparent valuation system, to save the industry”, the petition said adding “Our clients also assured you of their willingness to help your office achieve it revenue objectives by cooperating fully with you in all your endeavours”.