Kayode Farintho is the former Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tincan Island Chapter. In this interview with our correspondent, he bares his mind the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), Provisional Release, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and many other issues in the maritime sector. Excerpts;
During the last interview we had with you early this year, you prophesied that PAAR if the Customs continues the way they were going, would stir up congestion at the ports come February. February has come and gone. Would you say that your position is what obtained or is that the Customs has adopted new approach in handling PAAR as to avert the perceived congestion?
First of all, there are two sides to it, the importation has dropped drastically in view of the fact that there were no clear cut policy on the issue particularly on the vehicle policy except day before yesterday when the government brought out a clear cut policy especially on Motor vehicles and the policy is not affecting vehicles. So it has really make importations drop.
And the customs on its own too, succeeded in extending the provisional release by another two weeks and I also saw most of the teething problems that they have and I also now realized that they can now generate eight hundred PAARs in a day, so if that is done, really the dooms day is over. So that is what I can tell you as per PAAR. But the event of the next two weeks will start unfolding so that we will be able to get the clear picture, but for now, I think that they have put their house in order by making sure that all the teething problems they have in the issuance and transmitting of PAAR has been surmounted.
Talking about terminating the provisional release by the Nigeria Customs Service as stated by Customs Area Controller of Apapa on the ground that the grace period was over. How true is that statement, I mean, can you confirm that claim?
I didn’t hear the CAC of Apapa say that. But if that has been said, that means it was because they have seen that they are generating over eight hundred PAAR a day, meaning that they don’t have any problems again. Then we should expect a flow of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report in the system. But if that is not the case, then there will be another extension of the provisional release. You know they have been the ones speaking on the PAAR, the application, the implementation. So I want to believe that the grey areas have been soughted out.
So if he said that the provisional release has been soughted out, then so be it. But like I told you, whatever happens between now and next week Wednesday will determine the success or otherwise of the PAAR.
Some people were of the opinion that problems can never finish that if the customs should continue to have the provisional release extended, that those untransmitted RARs will not finish, therefore the need to suspend the provisional release. What is your take on that?
Yes I believe it is true because you know one thing about Nigerians, when you give them an inch, they will look for a mile. Some people will capitalize on these teething problems of PAAR to call for the continuous extension of provisional release because the provisional release makes agents to be lazy. That is just the truth. But with the PAAR, you must be up and doing, you must be able to classify goods well, you must be able to declare correctly and the importers must submit genuine documents. So that is just what I can say about it.
I want you also to believe that the Idea of extending the provisional release should be stopped provided that the PAAR is working.
In an interactive session between the Minister of Finance and the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN), recently in Lagos, it was said that MAN listed the PAAR issue as top among the problems confronting them in their business. How would you assess PAAR in the last three months?
I don’t want us to be alarmists and I don’t want to create unnecessary tension in the industry knowing fully well that PAAR is an indigenous document. Don’t forget that these expatriates, investors who actually benefited from RAR will definitely not want PAAR to succeed. The onus lies on us Nigerians to be patriotic, this is our document, and we must make sure it succeeds.
If the one percent will go to the customs, so be it. It will assist in remodeling and reshaping the Nigeria Customs Service better than somebody who is an expatriate or someone who will take that one percent abroad. So it will be ploughed back into our economy.
I don’t want Nigerians to be in a hurry to judge this PAAR, let us now dissect, analyze and look at the structures of PAAR when it is hundred days. It is less than a hundred. I don’t want us to be in haste, if we are in haste, we judge and we may be wrong in our judgment.
As you are introducing any new policy, we should all know that there will be teething problems, there will be sabotage here and there, whether within or outside. So these are the things we should be considering. If I will be assessing PAAR, the success or otherwise, I will be doing that in the month of April.
Looking at the recent calls for the government to be paying the agents one per cent of the total revenues they helped the government to collect in a year as a way of curbing corruption and sharp practices among the agents. Do you think that given the scenario, it will change the mindset of the agents who find pleasure in conniving with the importers to cheat the government?
Let me tell you something, this particular Dikko’s administration has succeeded in one area, forcing the compliance level down our throats. I must tell you the truth, the level of compliance is increasing on yearly basis.
When he came on board, the level of compliance was less than 30 percent but now, I can tell you categorically that the level of compliance is more than 75 percent, meaning that this particular administration has worked on compliance. That is one.
Talking about one percent CIF or FOB to be given to the customs brokers, the best organization that would have done that it the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) because if you do it at association level, it polarizes the associations, it causes disunity. It creates enmity; you now have the issue of complexity. ANLCA will want to claim that it is the oldest association; NAGAFF will tell you that it is also ten years old, AREFFN will tell you it is not a baby association, Council of Managing Directors will tell you, we are also stakeholders.
That is why they could not succeed and achieve this particular war but if they are able to narrow it down, package it at CRFFN stage, and then it will be a success. That is the only advice that I can give them. Let the leaders of the various associations come together, relate it to the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, then together they should all work for it then it will become a success because whether they like it or not, this is one of the things that will boost the morale of the customs brokers.
If I know that every year, whatever I generate into the government coffers, I am also entitled to one percent, I will not allow the importers to shortchange the government, I will be patriotic, I will not sabotage the economy. So it is a good idea.
We learnt that about #330 million was earmarked for the CRFFN in this year’s budget. What effect do you think this will have on the Council?
It will not have any effect. Don’t forget that we don’t have any council in sitting now and that was why the Honourable Minister of Transport called them for a meeting three days ago, he met with the leaders of the associations, that they should go and chart a way forward. There will be a town hall meeting very soon where everybody will come together and say his mind on CRFFN.
It is when we have a council in place that this money can be disbursed, if not, the money will in the account of the CBN. Yea! That is the truth. It is only Jukwe that is in the council now and the federal government cannot release money to a registrar until the council is in place whether by interim or election. So if that is not done, the government will not release the money and that is why the Honourable Minister called them to say look, this is what the government is doing for you, go and put your house in order.
Looking at this CRFFN, what do you think is responsible for the unending crisis rocking the council?
It is ego and greed among our leaders. Ego and greed and nothing more and that is why they left the primary thing undone and they are looking about money.
What I think should be of paramount importance to us is what the welfare of the younger agents, how do we monitor the industry, how do we , the law establishing CRFFN, that they should regulate, how do we regulate the freight forwarding business or profession? They have not done this, what they are after is ego and money.
Do you see the new e-payment solution introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as impacting positively on trade at the various ports across the nation?
First of all, it is unfortunate that NPA is celebrating what they are not supposed to celebrate. This is a project that is long overdue. If the terminal operators that came on board few years ago are going online with their transactions, NPA reluctantly is now coming to celebrate that rubbish. I think it is long overdue and it is going to facilitate trade.
We are at the level of IT now, everybody must be IT compliant and I think that is why the Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority feels let us move away from this our analog system of operation to be digitized. It is long overdue. What are they celebrating about? E-payment we ought to have started in the last four or five years ago.
I just want you to believe that the present management of NPA is giving us a sense of direction, if not; all the past leaders have failed because it does not cost them anything.
NPA have been collecting money in the ports and yet little or nothing seems to be happening in the ports. Do you see the need for the continuous collection of these monies by NPA?
If you look at the Act that established the Nigerian Ports Authority, it gives them the power to collect most of these monies like the berthing fee, royalties, and what have you and when our seaports was now concessioned, in the memorandum of understanding, NPA is still expected to collect most of this levies except that of storage.
But ideally, one would have expected them to plough back this money into the system like our access roads. The state of dilapidation on our access roads is a sorry sight. They are collecting this money, ordinarily, what we should have expected them to do with this money is port development, port growth. That is what they should concentrate on now because they now have money coming in and lesser places where they channel this money.
One should expect them to do more than what they are doing. All our access roads which are in a state of disrepair, I expect them to have awarded it but they keep telling us that they cannot award it without the board sitting; the board will tell you that they don’t have the power without the federal Executive Council, everybody keep passing the bulk. Meanwhile, they keep collecting the money but the level at which they are spending the money is less and the port is still stagnant.
The various terminal operators and what have you, they are trying in their own area. They are developing their terminals but what about the access roads that lead to the ports which is the sole responsibility of the Nigerian Ports Authority? They have not done it. Most of our quays aprons are in the state of disrepair, the dredging of the waterways are supposed to be their responsibility because it is big water; it is not the small water where NIWA will say it is their responsibility. So I don’t know what they are doing, NPA is collecting more but there is gap in the responsibility.
Talking about port development, NA claimed that it is embarking on seaports development and that it had embarked on so many projects in the ports. Going by your statements, did they not appear to contradict NPA’s claims?
If they tell you that they are embarking on seaport development, like I told you that just recently, they are just coming up. If you look at what they were doing in the last six months, our rails are now working, so this is also part of port development but then there are still some other areas that need their attention seriously.
So if you are talking about ports development, what have they done in the last twelve months? It is just window dressing. We expect them to do more. Come April or may, we would have seen where one port access road are being handled and not lip service. The trucks that are coming to the seaports, some of them are in the state of rickety, there is a bye law that empowered the Nigerian Ports Authority to make sure that any truck or any trailer that does not meet certain standard should not be allowed to take container, what have they done in this area except collection of money?
I read in the news where you were quoted as saying that ASECO had done their job and ought to have been dissolved. What informed that statement and how do you assess the BOT election of your association ANLCA as conducted by ASECO penultimate week?
I don’t want to talk about ASECO, I only want to tell you about the outcome. The outcome is interesting because people like us who have the association’s interest at heart did not allow ASECO to do it the way they had wanted it. If you allow a mad man to bury his dead, he will do it the way he likes. That is just the only word that I will use in describing ASECO.
ASECO has failed in her responsibility, we have a document indicting her that she has failed, that she has been biased but we all worked together, monitor them, shouted and told them that we would not allow them to conduct the BOT election the way they wanted and thank God in the success today. So ASECO cannot take the credit. It is our responsibility, it was the way we the people and members of the association who have the interest of the association at heart dictated it.
As the ANLCA elections draws closer, do you think it is now time to tell us what your position is regarding contesting for the presidency of ANLCA?
In the next one week, I will call a press conference to tell you.