Stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry have expressed divergent opinions over plans by the federal government to embark modernization of customs processes and procedures with deployment of adequate technology in order to enhance the activities of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
It will be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari recently consented to the modernization exercise which will see a contractor undertake the development of the electronic based customs processes and procedures for the NCS.
The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) who disclosed the Presidential consent at the graduation of Senior Course 3 of the Nigeria Customs Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja, also said that deployment of technology would go a lon way in enhancing the activities of the service as well as change the manner NCS operates.
Also recall that in a letter addressed to the Minister of Finance and copied to the Director General, Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) and the Comptroller General of Customs earlier in September 2019, the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari revealed plan to concession the revenue collection function of the service to four private companies under the customs modernization project.
Reacting to the development, the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam stated that the Nigeria Customs was established under an Act of the National Assembly and that the statutory responsibilities of the customs were usually in that piece of legislative instrument adding that if government wanted to do anything to the contrary, one should presuppose that it should go back to the national assembly to get this thing done in accordance with rules of engagement and the rule of law.
Aniebonam argued that modernization of customs processes and procedures, to the best of his knowledge, had been done for the period quite above five years even as he posited that right now, the Nigeria Customs had been visiting other African countries to help them in modernization process.
He observed that a critical look at the whole concept would reveal that the secret behind this recent move was the one percent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) and “maybe what one may call providing for the boys” which he said was not the best for the country now in an ailing economy.
According to him, “What is modernization we are talking about in the customs? It doesn’t make sense. The chances are there that somebody could stay somewhere and cook up some statistics for the use of the government, projecting a higher amount of money as revenue but we all know that duty payment or customs matters is very clear that it has to do with the FOB value of the import, the rate of duty as it were in the PAAR and of course, the insurance cover. With that, you can easily know what you are supposed to pay.
“And I want to ask, if we go ahead now and say we are modernizing customs again, I wonder what we are going to modernize. Whatever it is, are we going to bring people from the moon to come and do this? Is it not the same Nigerians? And let me remind you the PIDA experience – Professional Import Duty Administrators. What happened? They became worse than what we had on ground that the government had to do away with them.
“I think we need to take a second look at the way we do things in our country, it is not the best. So, I would rather see probably, that government wants to create food for the boys. So, modernization of customs is neither here nor there, it is not an issue to be discussed. The issue to be discussed is to do a feedback from the customs and see to extent they have gone in the modernization principles and see where they still have challenges and we add value to it. That is what we should be talking about.
On his part, the President General, Nigerian Association of Air Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), Prince Adeyinka Bakare posited that giving some aspects of the customs functions to consultants in order to generate more revenue was not a bad idea.
While stating that it was something that had been done before, Bakare believed that the project if pursued to its logical conclusion would bring sanity into the system, reduce corruption in service and ensure that proper revenue due to the government was generated.
He however noted that in as much as the customs modernization project was a welcome development, effort should be made to state categorically the aspect of the service’s function that would be concessioned out as customs was saddled with a lot of responsibilities as it were.
He said, “It is not just to say we want to concession, we really need to know the functions of the service that is earmarked for concession because as it is now, if you input a value while generating PAAR and they (customs) felt that the value is low, they jerk it up to what they felt the value should be and immediately the goods arrive, the Valuation department will still value it again and say that this value is not correct, while you are paying the duty, the resident officer is saying the value you are bringing is too poor and still get to CIU and he will still say the same thing.
“So, we really need to know who controls the value of cargo, at what office and at what point. Everybody talks about value is low even at the exit gate, the officers there still look at the document when you have passed every other sections and still say that the value is low. So, that needs to be seriously looked into and be corrected. As long as you have passed through valuation and valuation has looked at your value to be okay, I think it should be seen as okay.
“We really need to know where that consultant is coming to take not just saying that we are leaving security and border patrol to the customs. Who is doing the examination? Who is doing the assessment and so on and if customs needs to employ in order to boost their manpower, what are the issues instead of giving it to consultants.”
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