Ghana is to commence the use of the ECOWAS Regional Network for Transit Trade (SIGMAT) in the first quarter of 2023, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has announced.
Mr. Peter Antobre Ofori, Assistant Commissioner in charge of Transit at the Customs Division of GRA, said Ghana’s Customs administration has taken advanced steps to enroll in the SIGMAT system.
Mr Ofori speaking on the new system in Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) forum said ECOWAS required all customs administrations to automate their systems adding that some countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia were yet to automate theirs.
According to him, Ghana and Nigeria have done the automation but changed their systems, which required that they restart their networks.
“Presently, we haven’t been able to roll unto the SIGMAT, but we are in the process; We have established limited communication with Togo and designed a road map with Cote D’Ivoire and we are constantly meeting to ensure we roll on,” he said.
Mr Felix Kwakye, the Principal Programme Officer and Head of Division, Tariff and Customs Procedures, at the ECOWAS Commission, said the SIGMAT system was an improvement over the Interstate Road Transit System which was a paper-based, manual system used in ECOWAS countries.
Mr Kwakye indicated that for quite a while, ECOWAS had been looking at leveraging information, communication, and technology to reform the transit regime within West Africa, as a measure to improve and make it more efficient.
“It will improve the exchange of messages between customs administrations based on the interconnectivity of the national customs IT systems; ECOWAS wants all 15 member states to roll unto the system.”
He said the transit trade had led to a lot of apprehension and sense of insecurity for many countries, making them to put in place measures to secure revenue and maintain security thereby incurring a lot of cost and delay in the transit trade for which the ordinary consumer at the country of destination bore.
He said to ensure that international conventions for trade were followed, and trade facilitated as efficiently as possible, SIGMAT was one of the interventions introduced to generate confidence in the transit trade and secure revenue.
Mr. Kwakye revealed that feedback on revenue generation and trade facilitation has been encouraging from countries that have begun the use of the system.
He disclosed that processes have been undertaken for a “community guarantee mechanism” under the SIGMAT system, explaining that the bonds issued to cover cargoes on transit would have to be valid in every country throughout the entire transit corridor.
He added that the selected guarantor would have to be represented in all of those countries, stating that this measure and others taken under the new ECOWAS regime were all geared towards checking cargo diversion.
The SIGMAT system according to customs would come at no extra cost to importers and exporters in the sub region.
The system began pilotage in 2019, and in December 2021, the various heads of state within ECOWAS adopted a supplementary act on ECOWAS Community Transit which binds all member countries to implement the system.
The SIGMAT system which is already being operated in some Francophone countries, is expected to enhance custom-to-custom communication, improve data collection, facilitate trade and secure revenue.
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