From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matt. 11:12

Sorry Kwabena, I had to borrow your favorite Bible verse and make it mine. You should know by now you rub off me the right way and I intend to borrow a few of your signature terminologies so take heart, what are friends for? Believe me I am not about to spew a cacophony of pedagogical jargons…heehaw, borrowed again.

Don’t be deceived by the bible quote….I don’t intend to preach, I actually want to rant and rave! The soldiers in my tiny skull are thumping. They seem to be the communist Kim Jong Un type, see how they march on Pyongyang Square, swinging their legs at an almost 180° angle and returning it to make such a thump on the pavement…you get the picture. I need to spill lest I lose my sanity. I am bordering on the lunatic fringe.

You see the year is 1986 and the Strong Man Rules, Monarch of all that he surveys, I bet you know the ‘Yevu’… don’t quote me anywhere. These were fearful times. The soldier rules! I am a secretary/port delivery clerk in my Holy City of Takoradi. If Tema had the tall, fearsome AK47 gun totting W.O. Nkwantabisa as port security coordinator, Takoradi had a quiet and calm looking Captain Adu for a Port security coordinator. But do not be deceived by the Man’s quiet demeanor my brother, those were scary days. I am not running political commentary Kwabena, just tarry awhile and you will catch my drift.

The security coordinator had just arrived to commence work in the port and for the first week no one ventured to clear from the port for obvious reasons. You see there were agents who had done some ‘huhudious’ things and were just studying the terrain to see how they could get away with it. We had heard stories of yore from the Tema port of how clearing agents who had fallen foul of the law and were non-compliant, saboteurs – they used to call them, were tied to poles and whipped. Instant justice! The thought alone made you want, to borrow an old American expression, “Piss your pants”.

But I had stuff to clear, duty had been paid and Mrs. Amoako of blessed memory was waiting for her goods at her boutique at the Market Circle. Takoradi is a small city and word spreads fast. Word around town was that there was a new HNIC (Head Nigger in Charge) at the port. Be afraid!

It might have been out of sheer bravado or foolish youthful exuberance, call it whatever you want. I walked up to my boss and announced I was venturing into the port to clear the stuff. He looked at me as if to say…”are you crazy?” I did convince him that there was nothing wrong and that we had been compliant. His problem was this….does this new guy at the port understand Customs regimes, documentation, processes etc.? I can still hear his voice ringing in my ears…..”Don’t go and bring me troubleoooo….”

But I did go. I called Mrs. Amoako to tell her I was bringing her goods and that just in case I hadn’t shown up in a couple of hours she could follow up at the military barracks where I will be languishing in a jail cell getting an identification haircut and doing some hundred sit-ups in the sun. I can imagine she said a hundred “Hail Mary’s” being a staunch Catholic.

I loaded the cargo from the old shed 4 in the Takoradi Port. Even the waybill clerks stared at me funny. They did not remember the last time they had written a waybill. Eyes bore into my skin and am sure they were all thinking I was out of my mind. The 5 minute drive from Shed 4 to the main gate was the longest I ever travelled. The usually bustling and noisy main exit from the port had a certain eerie silence to it and all the port security and Customs preventive officers at the gate were stuck in their cubicles peeping through pigeon holes….I parked at the main gate, got out of the truck with documents in hand, duly numbered customs form c12, duty receipt, Ministry of Trade fees receipt, Internal Revenue Service tax receipt et al

What I saw next Kwabena, almost made me buckle at the knees and I started looking around for the nearest place of convenience……. Mr. Azu was a fine, well respected elderly gentleman in the Port community of Takoradi. He was in charge of the State Gold Mining Corporations office and they handled all the import clearance for the SGMC. He was standing beside the good old Captain trying to explain a certain situation and from where I stood the Captain won’t have any of his explanations. He was visibly drenched in his own sweat. He was being bombarded with questions. His Crime? He was clearing 12 containers on ‘Permit’ (which is a valid Customs Regime) and as such had no numbered declaration and other receipts. Worse of all, the description on the Permit form called for ‘EXPLOSIVES’ and my Captain here was a weapons expert. Trouble!

Kwabena, for heavens’ sake, Permit was and still is a legal Customs regime, and the type of explosives in there was used for blasting rocks in the mines as per the HS Code?! These were for the ‘State’! That is when I knew I should have listened to my boss Kweku Jackson who by this time am sure was on standby just in case something untoward happened. I was sure he had filled his tank ready to jet off to his holy village in Simpa.

But I approached the Captain cautiously, mimicked a respectable military salute seeing that I was a Services Primary School trained boy, and handed over my documents. He flipped through at the same time drawing the sweating Mr. Azus’ attention to my documents…..”You see, he has paid duty and tax, where is your duty receipt?”….seemed I was the good guy…I couldn’t take my eyes off the red pen he slowly pulled out of his top pocket. What happened then seemed like a slow motion scene from the movie “ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ”……he slowly crossed each receipt and wrote the comment “OK!” At that moment I understood the real meaning of the pen being mightier than the sword. I could jump out of my skin, I was long gone never to look back just in case I got the ‘Lot’s wife’ syndrome.

Hero of the day. Mrs. Amoako was waiting with open arms and showered accolades on his favorite agent. My little head had blown up like an inflated case 5 football.

So Kwabena, why am I telling you this long story? I am really tired of everybody calling me a common thief, an invoice doctor, a conjurer of values….Please for God’s sake stop it and own up to your responsibilities for once! This is why I borrowed that Bible Verse. If there were thieves and rapists a 100 years ago, then there were thieves and rapists yesterday and you sure bet they will be here tomorrow! So what do we do? Throw our hands up in the air and start calling on morality? That is the new refrain from our blue-shirted cousins, Government and every other person caught up in the “easier option trance” like in spike lee’s movie, ‘DO THE RIGHT THING’. Really?

We are a God fearing people and I think the ratio of churches and mosques per square mile in Ghana is mind boggling and they are almost always filled on Fridays and Sundays. That being the case let us give the Police a day off on these Holy days since we are talking morality and nobody will commit a crime. Can you imagine that?

There is an old Afghan proverb which says “If you want to move into the future, do not look to the past”. Technology is here to arrest the situation. You take money from me to do due diligence and issue me with a Customs Classification and Valuation Report (CCVR). You have all the tools at your disposal to verify my invoices and you have the power to uplift if you doubt my values or reduce the value if you suspect some money laundering scheme…eish! Did I just say reduce? I am yet to see the statistics on value reduction by my favorite cousins….I don’t think there is any money laundering in Ghana as long as they are concerned…….I am just saying…don’t come and ask me questions later….lets continue. Rather than calling me names and calling on my morality use the tools!! (Did I tell you the story of the man who was using macho skills on his brand new wife just to cover up for his own inadequacies in the bedroom? That’s a story for another day). We contracted DICs (Destination Inspection Companies) for years, Customs Officers were attached to these companies to be trained in the valuation modules. Part of the agreements with these companies was the transfer of technology and data to us after their contracts had expired. Am I being told that all of this came to naught? All these operations are being backed by big IT backbones but they are still calling for more. But hold on, show me the statistics of what you are losing and why you are pressing the panic button?

Statistics coming out of GRA show that from the inception of the Paperless Policy on September 1st 2017 till January 31st 2018, despite a rather sharp increase of up to 76%physical examinations by Customs, only 3% of these had COR (customs offense report) issues. For every one (1) of the screaming Daily Graphic front page headlines of tax evasion in the port, there were twenty (27) law abiding traders/importers and their agents who needed to be applauded for being compliant!! But you guessed right somebody had an agenda to give the dog a bad name just to hang it. Remember that COR covers a whole lot of things including wrong classification, wrong HS code, wrong freight station and not only loss of revenueso we still need to ask questions of the 3% non-compliant statistic. This is an eye-opener! The system is working!! I am 97% compliant and you are still calling me names? And then you still ask for more tools that I should pay for to arrest what? Why fix it when it is not broken? Like Super OD said “kill me and fly”! The day the police request atomic bombs to fight armed robbery then know ye that Armageddon has arrived.

Kwabena, my heart is bleeding and I am nauseated from all this name-calling and misplaced branding and one of these days, like Bob Marley said in his sweet Jamaican patois “Every day the bucket a-go a well, one day the bottom a-go drop out”

Kwabena, you can’t rush water, if you do the dam will break and the floods will come. There might be no survivors. For now I have to learn to swim just in case the floods come because truth of the matter is I just don’t know how to swim but please don’t tell this to my 8 year old Uma who pities me so much because I can’t swim but does not hesitate to make fun of me to her friends….”you know my dad can’t swim?”