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Aluta At Airport: Clearing Agents Battle BIVAC

Freight forwarders will, as from today, 28th March, 2011, embark on a sit-down strike to press home their demand for changes in the operations of BIVAC that will remove bottlenecks that have hampered trade inspection and certification at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA).

BIVAC, the only destination inspection company at the KIA and other borders of entry to Ghana, apart from the sea ports, is the only company licensed to offer Final Classification and Valuation Report (FCVR) for the clearing of goods.

According to Mr. Kwabena Ofosu Appiah, Chairman of Ghana Institute of Freight Forwarders, BIVAC is abusing this monopoly that it enjoys in all manner of ways.

Mr Appiah said in an interview with The Herald last Friday that, BIVAC treats the freight forwarders like criminals, in that, the latter are not allowed to get near the workers of BIVAC, at their Headquarters during the presentation of documents such as invoices, for certification and subsequent clearing of goods for their clients.

According to him, eight days is the period within which they (Freight Forwarders) can clear goods for their clients. Any day beyond this period attracts demurrage.

He said BIVAC, has exploited this provision to its advantage, thereby increasing the Cost, Insurance, Freight (C.I.F) at which their clients clear goods from the KIA.

“In most cases, BIVAC officials try to find fault with the invoices that we present to them concerning the goods that our clients have imported, causing undue delays which result in our clients paying huge demurrage”, Mr. Appiah disclosed, adding that “the importer in this case will definitely transfer this extra cost to the final consumer”.

“This explains the high cost of some imported goods in the market”, he argued.

Aviance, a cargo handling company, which handles the storage at the airport, he alleged, is in connivance with BIVAC to slap unnecessary cost on importers.

He said BIVAC had been operating in Ghana for more than a decade and is, therefore, aware of countries which would not condone malpractices like under-invoicing, and yet, all the importers are subjected to undue searches and bureaucratic bottlenecks that subsequently lead to increased cost in the clearing of goods for their clients.

“In countries like UK, the US and Europe, collusion to under-invoice is not common, and yet importers dealing with such countries are not given that benefit, but are lumped together with those dealing with such countries, like China, Dubai and Thailand, who are said to be in the high risk zone of under-invoicing, and subjected to undue delays that attract high demurrage ” he lamented, adding that it would have been prudent if BIVAC were to give incentives to clearing houses that have proven over the years to be credible.

“Another way of exploiting and frustrating us and our clients is the refusal to process, immediately, documents on goods that are “zero-rated” i.e. goods that are tax exempt, said Mr. Appiah.

According to him, when it is pointed out to them (BIVAC officials) that the items are zero-rated goods, they would ask the Freight Forwarders to petition BIVAC.

“And this could take days because you have to put the petition on your client’s letterhead, which, most often, are not immediately on hand, resulting in delays that attract demurrage even if the fault is from them (BIVAC).

He said importers routing their goods through the Tema and Takoradi Harbours are not subjected to the frustrations and exploitations that are visited on those dealing with BIVAC at the KIA.

“Gateway Services Ltd (GSL), ISAL, Ghana Link, Webbfontaine and other destination inspection companies do not give the kind of problems that BIVAC is giving us,” Mr. Appiah lamented, adding that they have sought audience with people like the National Security Coordinator, Lt. Col Gbevlo Lartey, General ManKatah, National Security representative at KIA, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) boss, Mr. Blankson and the Ministry of Trade representative, Mr. Christian Akoto-Bamfo, to their plight and the subsequent resolution have fallen on deaf ears.

“They all promise to do something about our plight but, strangely, we do not hear anything from them. And what we want now is action to be taken”, said Mr. Appiah.

Unable to continue dealing with BIVAC under such exploitative conditions, Mr. Appiah said they were going to present BIVAC and other stakeholders with a ten-point resolution, and that not until BIVAC agrees to abide by this resolution, they were also not going to transact any business with them.

The resolution demands that, “BIVAC must be compelled to institute a Risk Management System that must come up with a profile module based on the following:

Presenting the clearing agents with their profile; the items in question and the country of origin. This, they said, will provide them with a more scientific and predictable regime of classification and valuation and report generation. The mode of operation of BIVAC, the Freight Forwarders said, must be made known to them all the time, and they should be notified when there is a change in operation.

The clearing agents will also want an end to the conflict of interest situation in assessing values where BIVAC alone is allowed to assess the value of items and based on that issue the Classification and Valuation Report (FCVR).

On occasions where there are errors on the FCVR attributed to BIVAC an immediate redress mechanism must be put in place for rectification instead of BIVAC being petitioned.

BIVAC is to respect the authorities of CEPS at KIA, so that conflicting issues relating to accounts could be solved locally instead of the novelty trend of resorting to all means available, thereby stalling trade. In addition, CEPS and BIVAC are to forge harmonious relationship that will be congenial for all stakeholders in the business.

BIVAC is also to be aware of the fact that government’s policy has led to increase in cargo flights terminating at the KIA, and hence, must increase its logistics and manpower to reap the full benefits of the policy instead of invoking the rather outmoded period permitted in their agreement as reason for reneging on their responsibility.

The inspection company is also to realize that orders could be placed and air-lifted within days into Ghana to meet emergency needs, and it is imperative for it (BIVAC) to discharge its duties to meet such demands since they constitute about 60 per cent of the imports that pass through the KIA.

The company is to realize also that there are other competing terminals such as Lome (Tokoin) becoming a preferred choice for the middle-belt importers.

The freight forwarders urge BIVAC to note that at the centre of their operation is trade facilitation and that storage cost is an unnecessary cost which should not be an integral part of the cost build up at the KIA.

When Jaime Barton, managing director of BIVAC, was contacted on phone for his side to the story, he said he was having dinner with his family, and therefore, could not discuss the matter with this reporter.

Asked if he could do that latter, Mr. Barton said he had a date with his auditors this week and that he could only talk to the paper the following week.

Meanwhile, when this reporter visited Aviance Cargo Handling, at KIA last Friday, he saw clearing agents wearing red arm bands, signifying their readiness to embark upon the proposed sit-down strike today.

[Source: GNA, Ghanaweb by Sedi Bansah & Abdul Razak Bawa]