Ghana Community Network Services: Customs Clearance and Tax Registration in Ghana

Dr. Nortey Omaboe gives an overview of GCNet (Ghana Community Network Services Limited), a company that began operations in the year 2002, with the objectives of improving customs duties by accelerating port clearance system, improve government revenue and transparency and reduce customs officers’ discretions.

Interview with Dr. Nortey Omaboe, Executive Chairman of GCNet (Ghana Community Network Services Limited)

Dr. Nortey Omaboe, Executive Chairman of GCNet (Ghana Community Network Services Limited)

What is your assessment of the sector itself in 2018 in Ghana? What are the latest trends?

Essentially, we’ve come an extremely long way. Ghana probably has one of the most advanced systems for customs clearance for tax registration. As far as facilitating business and enhancing government revenue, the systems that have been deployed by GCNet have stood the test of time. Obviously, these are subject to upgrades on a continuous basis. And so, working with our international partners and with the support from local stakeholders, we are striving to continuously update the systems that we have to ensure that the objectives of the country are achieved. These objectives include competitiveness of Ghana as a destination for business. We are always looking at the ease of doing business rankings and we believe that our company contributes significantly in that regard. Government revenue from duties and taxes and other areas have consistently been a huge proportion of the work that we do. We are also improving the business environment through registering of companies. We’ve deployed systems for Registrar General, domestic taxes, and international taxes, as well. So, we are really at the center of trade, revenue mobilization for government, and facilitating the ease of doing business in Ghana.

Is the government your only customer?

Ghana probably has one of the most advanced systems for customs clearance for tax registration. As far as facilitating business and enhancing government revenue, the systems that have been deployed by GCNet have stood the test of time.

We are serving the government through a mandate, but at the same time, the biggest users, the ecosystem for the company, involves practically all citizens and economic operators. Every company uses our systems to register, to declare their customs and their corporate taxes, and to ensure compliance with the statutory regulations. These include the Food and Drugs Board, the Narcotics Board, even foreign embassies. When you have to import, there are certain statutory requirements and these systems have been deployed by us. So, it is an entire ecosystem which extends right across the economy of the country.

Does this mean that you are limited to Ghana or can you operate in neighboring countries or internationally?

We are doing that. For example, we have a system of automatic exchange of customs data with Côte d’Ivoire. We have a transit monitoring system which is really the first in the Sub-Saharan region through which we monitor transit cargo through the ports of Ghana and this is linked to the neighboring country customs activities. Through one of our international associates, a similar system has been deployed in Madagascar, Mozambique, and recently Gabon. Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria have been to look at the system. It is really a single window for trade, but it is broader than that because we provide solutions for business-to-government, government-to-government, and business-to-business relationships.

What are the challenges for the sector to grow?

The sector inherently will grow and will continue to grow as the economy grows. But also, in a quest to, for example, widen the tax net, reduce the informal sector, and bring the informal sector into the formal sector to enable taxation, it is systems such as ours which are technology based that are doing the job. So, there is inherent growth there, but at the same time, the application of technology is literally limitless in today’s environment. Ghana is looking at a national identification system currently, which is interlinked with a judicial system, potentially interlinked with a national health system, and potentially interlinked with a birth and death registry system. These are integrated systems that are sophisticated technologically which will ensure that the country’s efficiency as an entity is enhanced over time. This is where we want to position the country.

Do you need partnership and help from other technology companies that have already achieved similar large-scale programs?

Technology is a journey, it is not a destination. So, it is a continuous adaptation to the circumstances that exist and then charting, once we are forward, as new technology. The life cycle for technology in our sector is 12 to 18 months and then there is a new upgrade. And so, you do have to work with international partners. For example, GCNet works with the Singapore network services, CrimsonLogic, who have deployed similar systems in Singapore which is really one of the most efficient ports in the world. Our original system was more or less brought in from Mauritius which is a very advanced and efficient country that had also worked with Singapore at the time. So, you have these partnerships which are inevitable in the technology space and day in and day out we bring in new partners and seek to leverage upon what we have established here in Ghana.

Can you explain the GCNet group?

We were set up about 18 years ago. GCNet stands for Ghana Community Network Services Limited. It was opened up to all the telecos, banks, shipping agents, etc. But, being a novel concept, not many people could see the vision behind it. And so, at the time, the entities that got involved were the government, obviously, which is a major stakeholder in the company. We also have a number of banks, such as Ecobank and GCB Bank. The Ghana Shippers Authority is also a stakeholder. We also have a group from Switzerland, SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance), who have been a technical partner throughout. Finally, we have a Ghanaian group, the O3 Technology & Allied Partners, which are also shareholders in GCNet.

What do you want to achieve in the medium term, two to three years’ time? What is your vision? What do you want to do with GCNet?

Basically, we want to see GCNet diversified into several of the other areas within the economy that are really hungry for technological solutions. This is really right across the gamut from health services, to the judiciary, to land registry, etc. There are really very novel solutions that can be brought to bear. In a month’s time, we are launching a new service on cyber security in view of the real threats that come with today’s technology solutions. We believe there is a need for a very ordered approach to ensure the security and the sanctity of e-applications throughout the country. GCNet has mandated to champion that cause.


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