By John Bediako .
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 the 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 the 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 ended 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 is 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.
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.
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 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 had 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 off 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 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 believed 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.
My Lady versus My Lord?
Written by Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey
By the Grace of God, I was called to the Bar in 1986, and harsh economic conditions compelled me to plunge into private legal practice like how a person jumps into a swimming pool, either to swim or sink.
Thanks to God I started the practice mostly in the district courts – always referring to the Presiding Magistrate as “Your Worship”.
I became so used to saying “Your Worship” that when I first appeared before the Circuit Court, the Judge was Mrs Agyemang Bempah, instead of saying “Your Honour”, by reflex I said ‘Your Worship”, and my colleague lawyers started giggling. Her Honour relaxed me by saying amidst laughter, ‘Counsel, don’t worry, I have been worshipped before…”
In due course I progressed to the High Court, where the Presiding Judge is referred to as “My Lord”. Pretty soon I became so used to saying ‘My Lord” that for the avoidance of problems I referred to every Judge – Magistrate Circuit and High alike – as “My Lord”.
After more than twenty years of practice, a certain Chief Justice circulated a memorandum to all the courts throughout Ghana, that female Superior Court judges should be referred to as “My Lady”, instead of “my Lord”.
The greater majority of all female superior Court Judges are all married women, and they always very proudly show their ringed left hand for all to see, so I always find it most embarrassing, indeed, to hear oftentimes, an obviously young junior male lawyer referring to a senior High Court Judge as “My Lady”.
(At times I quietly tell myself: who the hell is this small boy referring to My Lord as “My Lady? Don’t you know she can even be your mother?)
At times, some of them too look so attractive, slim, cute, fresh-looking that when a prominent senior lawyer refers to her as “My Lady”, the obvious insinuations become so glaring…
For the avoidance of problems, I have pointedly insisted on never using ‘my Lady” to refer to any female justice. The other day, not too long ago this year, I entered some High Court to see an extremely attractive female Justice presiding, looking almost a photocopy of my father in-law’s daughter. I forgot myself and said “My Lady”, then I remembered and told myself “Captain this is not Gloria”, whereupon I said in a military parade voice” My Lord…” she raised her head and smiled, and reader, it was like the morning sunshine bursting through the clouds…
Interesting enough, the current Chief Justice is also a Lady, and apparently, she is not bothered by the discomfiture of practicing male chauvinist lawyers in having to refer to female justices as “My Lady”.
The other day, in open Court, I raised this issue before one of the female justices of the High Court, and she said flatly that she has no problem being referred to as “My Lord’ instead of “My Lady”, jokingly adding that at times when some ‘bearded” lawyers refer to her as “My Lady”, she gets a little upset! According to her, from childhood she has always disliked men with beards!
For the avoidance of these idiosyncrasies and possible embarrassments, I will urge a return to the old order where every female Superior Court judge is referred to simply as “My Lord.”
I will vote for that view.