GRA begins exercise to clamp down on smuggled vehicles

BY: Emelia Enin Abbey
 Customs officers inspecting a car suspected to have been smuggled into Ghana
Customs officers inspecting a car suspected to have been smuggled into Ghana

More than 400 cars have been impounded in the Greater Accra Region by the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) within the last four months for non-payment of customs duties.

An additional 249 vehicles were also seized between January and April 2018 from Kumasi, Elubo, Sunyani, Aflao, Dabala, Koforidua and Takoradi.

Kumasi, which is considered a hot spot for smuggled vehicles, recorded the highest figure of 106.

Last year, when a similar special exercise was carried out by the GRA, 754 vehicles and trucks were impounded between January and December, 2017.

Special operation


The GRA is optimistic that more vehicles will be impounded in an ongoing nationwide operation to confiscate uncustomed vehicles which started simultaneously yesterday in Accra and other regional capitals.

Briefing journalists in Accra on Monday, the Commissioner General of the GRA, Mr Kofi Nti, said intelligence reports reaching the authority indicated that there were many vehicles and trucks on Ghana's roads whose owners did not pay the requisite duties.

Mr Nti added that the presence of such vehicles in the country was illegal because the necessary permits were not secured and the owners had violated Section (55) sub-section (1) of the Customs Act (Act 891).

He explained that the operation to impound uncustomed vehicles in the country, which was announced last week, was delayed to afford the public the opportunity to rectify any deficiencies they might have had.

"Under normal circumstances, the Customs Division carries out such operations without any prior announcement to the general public, he said.

He further stated that the exercise was also to create awareness that the special operation would be sustained and advised all vehicle or truck owners and other prospective buyers to contact the nearest customs offices for verification of the status of vehicles they intended to purchase.

Operation

A national task force led by the Deputy Commissioner in Charge of the Preventive Unit of the Customs Division of the GRA, Mr Seidu Iddrisu, visited garages on the Spintex road and the customs garage near the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.

The task force also randomly stopped vehicles on the Spintex road which were inspected and the chassis numbers entered in the GRA system to verify if they were genuinely brought into the country and import duties had been paid.

In some cases, the customs officers used sandpaper to remove paints on the chassis numbers of vehicles to find out if the numbers had been tampered with.

Two vehicles, a Nissan Ameri taxi and a Hyundai Truck, were impounded during the exercise as it was found that their chassis numbers had been tampered with and the owners had not paid the requisite customs duties.

Smuggled vehicles

Later in an interview, Mr Iddrisu said it had come to the attention of the authority that some of the vehicles were smuggled through unapproved entry points from neighbouring West African countries.

He explained that under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol, to which Ghana is a signatory, citizens of member countries of the sub-regional body are permitted to temporarily cross over to other countries in the sub-region with vehicles for temporary use for a period of two weeks, which could be extended to 90 days.

Mr Iddrisu advised owners or importers of such vehicles to ensure that they contacted the Customs Division to regularise the status of the vehicles before they could be used in Ghana under what is known as ‘home consumption’.

“If, after 90 days, an ECOWAS national is seen in Ghana still using such a vehicle, he is made to pay a penalty or a Customs officer is assigned to escort him or her out of the country. If the user has the intention to use the vehicle in Ghana, we work out the duty and give him or her the necessary documentation to enable him or her to register the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA),” he said.

He noted that the smugglers usually tampered with the chassis numbers of the cars and, therefore, urged potential car buyers to contact the nearest customs office to verify the tax liability and the authenticity of customs documents covering the cars.

Penalty

The Head of the Public Education and Media Relations Unit at the GRA, Mr Johnson Yankey, stated that the minimum penalty for vehicle owners who defaulted in the payment of tax on imported vehicles was 100 per cent of the tax evaded.

Mr Yankee said vehicles suspected to have been smuggled were initially detained for 30 days, during which the owners were expected to produce the necessary documents and assist in investigations, and depending on the outcome the vehicles were released to the owners.

Where the owner fails to produce the necessary documents when the 30 days’ grace period expires, the vehicles are then classified as seized cars and the owners have 30 days to appeal.

After that, the vehicles are put up for auction to recover the revenue or allocated to a public official working for the state.