Drama At Customs Over Probe

There was drama at the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) over the suspension of a committee probing some customs officers.

The sitting of the Disciplinary Committee of the Customs Division of the GRA was suspended indefinitely following a demand by some of the interdicted officers.

One of the lawyers representing some of the interdicted 115 customs officers, Peter Okudzeto, had demanded for the interim suspension of the committee’s sittings and requested for the appearance of some senior officers.

According to the counsel, the officer in-charge of Post Clearance Audit at the time the alleged malfeasance occurred, Isaac Crentsil – who happens to be the Acting Commissioner of the Customs Division – as well as the immediate past Commissioner General, George Blankson, should also appear before the committee in view of their roles.

But with the Pandora’s Box apparently about to be opened, the authorities quickly suspended the sitting indefinitely.

It would be recalled that in July 2017, the Customs Division of the GRA interdicted about 115 officers for their alleged roles in the loss of over GH¢1.2 billion revenue to the state.

The officers were said to have aided some freight forwarders and importers to evade taxes and duties at the Tema Port to the tune of the above-quoted figure.

Whilst some of the interdicted officers were recalled to post and posted to other border points across the country, others are still being investigated.

Secretary to the Customs Disciplinary Committee had extended an invitation to some of the interdicted officers to appear before the committee.

But Mr. Okudzeto, in a letter to the Customs’ invitation dated April 21, 2018 on behalf of the interdicted officers, stated that the sittings should be suspended to enable him prepare adequately to represent his clients.

According to the lawyer, the entire committee as currently constituted could not sit on this particular case because it would be proceeding from preconceived ideas to predetermined conclusions, thus rendering their sittings a charade that reaches its conclusions long before the facts are heard.

Mr. Okudzeto is also asking Customs to make available copies of the alleged fraudulent declarations in advance “for my clients to study before meeting the committee since they worked on several declarations and can’t recollect which ones in question.

“This will ensure a level playing field between the committee, which has access to these documents – both hard and soft copies.”

Further arguing for the interim suspension of the committee’s sitting, he pointed out, “I am further fortified by the fact that at the committee’s earlier sitting, it was discovered that some of the officers were not the actual people who worked on the alleged declarations.

“The administration bid a hasty retreat and recalled some of those officers whilst others stayed home for over six months.

“It is clear from the above narrative that GRA and the above committee have strayed from the path of justice and must retrace their steps so that justice will be done with respect to my clients, no matter how low their ranks are and the above-mentioned officials, no matter how their ranks are.”

Again, he disclosed that his discussions with the affected officers revealed “the fact that if the committee is minded to do substantive and not selective justice to the case at hand and also ensure procedural integrity, then certain requirements, which are mandatory and guaranteed by the Constitution, must be adhered to so as to ensure that their fundamental constitutional rights are not compromised.”

He also wants the Systems Administrator at Tema Harbour during the period of the alleged malfeasance; all senior commissioners of Tema during the period of the alleged malfeasance; all terminal heads of the collection, who authorized final release of the goods out of the terminals during the time of the alleged malfeasance; the Deputy Commissioner Operations during the period, to explain to the Committee whether or not goods belonging to those companies were ever tagged,” among others.

Also, Mr Okudzeto is asking for some members of the committee to recuse themselves from the committee’s sittings.

According to him, the members are Bob Senyallah, special advisor to the commissioner; Nana Poku Bonsu, staff officer to the commissioner, Customs Division and Solomon Abban Quaye.