The immediate past National President, Association of Nigerian License Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu has indicated that Corruption and cargo clearing would exist as Siamese twin, until Government decisively stop granting enablement to corruption in the ports industry.
Shittu made the observation in his Lagos Office, and stressed the need for government to introduce a functional digital One-shop clearing system with a Lead- agency, anchored on state of the art IT that drastically eliminates human contacts in cargo clearing.
Government would also in addition, ensure that every Service agency, including the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) operates within the budget appropriated to it by the National Assembly.
“Elsewhere is where service agencies rely on budget. Even in America, their National Emergency Agency relies on the budget from National Assembly. Not for you to ask an agency of government that provides service, like the SON to generate IGR.
“The Standard Organization’s service is to prevent sub-standard goods from coming into the country. So they are doing service for the nation; they should live on budget and not on the amount they charge, like the Inspection amount; SONCAP amount; to increase revenue generation.
“That revenue generation target has beclouded any other reasons. If one lacks the ability to meet up with the standard and he has to pay, then every other person has to pay something at least. Nothing goes free. If as a straight forward person, you want to bring in goods, and you believe in paying money to government, like some who go and knock door of tax officers to pay tax!”
He expressed his genuine confidence in the innate goodness of the average Nigerian persons, stressing that most Nigerians are honest.
“Not all Nigerians are corrupt. But the straight forward people have not been allowed to impact on the others, because the non straight forward Nigerians make it better than the straight forward.
“In almost all the countries we have gone under the Customs Brokers Association international, we go to the area of operations. When in Cape Town, nobody was in the port, it was like a graveyard, what you hear is the sound of gigantic cranes, taking containers, loading it on trailers or bringing one down. No tout and hawkers.
“When we asked why, they said Customs brokers don’t have to be there, but in their offices and do everything online; even the consignments are inspected without the owner being there. One of the rights of the Customs is to inspect containers without anybody being there. This is being done abroad. If you travel and your luggage is opened, once the cargo is clean, they just write that ‘this cargo has been opened and nothing incriminating found, thank you for your understanding’; zip up the bag and give it back to you.
“All goods coming into Nigeria are been left to Customs by the forwarders, the goods stay with them for three days: they scan it, the ones to be opened are being opened and inspected; once the goods are clean it is taken to the ports. This also applies to the import. Why can’t we do it here?!
“But, that may not be possible here because the Customs will tell you they are afraid of being accused of conspiracy or ‘contaminating’ the goods during examination. So, they call up others involved like the agents, thus providing an opportunity for multiple human contacts and during which something may change hands.
Asked to evaluate the extent to which the adoption of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has incarcerated corruption especially with the uncontrolled desire of most agencies to soar their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), the revered Customs broker said the positive impact has not been total.
“You remember the revelation when Okonjo Iweala was there, that this Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) that some agencies pay 20 percent to tax collection for theirs to Federal Government. What happens to the balance of 80 per cent. Do you think it’s all collection that goes to TSA? If you pay money and you are given a receipt, is that TSA receipt?
“I know Customs money go through TSA, because it is the bank that pays directly, they generate the confirmation of your payment. I know of Customs but check others.
“If you go to the CPC in Ghana, you won’t see anybody there. But here, after you have done your data- capture and it has been in the system, you still have to go and make hard copies that will be given to each and every officer that are ‘relevant’ to look into it.
“Then when you go to the CPC you see crowd everywhere. You cannot go to the operation area in Ghana, whether as a freight forwarder or as a customs agent, if you don’t have the Customs brokerage lapel, including in Liberia, you cannot enter operational area!
“What takes you to operational area is because you are doing operations, when they do your examination they put it on the system, you open the system and see what they are claiming is not correct; whether it is about your HS code classification or something else. It is perhaps then, that you want to go and physically see it in order to resolve the dispute; and that’s when you go to the Operations.
“Again, when we don’t have a Lead agency, which customs should have been, because they were trained to do the jobs, after all, NDLEA and NAFDAC, SON came out of customs; Nigerian Customs were the ones doing everything before. The division started when the military came and wanted an empire to be built, they started piecicing it like it had been done in other countries. In the process they eliminated the role of the Lead Agency.
“That lead agency is there to resolve dispute immediately; so as to stop cargoes being tied down. But if you have a dispute with Customs, they will expect you to resolve it within Customs itself even if the dispute is created by lack of knowledge of an officer. How do you expect Justice to be done. You have problem with NAFDAC and it has to be resolved within the same NAFDAC set up. There must be a dispute resolution mechanism put in place by government that is instant. But sometimes we have to write letters to Abuja to give proper classification. Their response may take weeks. So, you start thinking of how much money will be spent in the process. Yet, for those weeks wasted, nobody owes you an apology!
Unfortunately, that power of ‘discretion’ is adding to corruption in the port!
When asked if the presence of the Nigerian Shippers Council as a dynamic Economic Regulator had not foreclosed the need for a Lead Agency, the ANLCA Chieftain took the opportunity to revealed the fundamental dysfunction of the current arrangement.
“Shippers Council can only regulate the commerce of trade. The amount charged for every transaction in the port by private persons, that is, the private commercial individuals operating in the port.
“Shipper’s council cannot regulate how much NPA is charging. It cannot tell NIMASA what to do. It is not possible. Government will not regulate itself!
“A system to regulate government will still take a lot of time. That is why I said, let us check how it is done elsewhere!
“Elsewhere, everything is one stop-shop! There is no secret. As you are dealing with Customs, the man in Quarantine is opening his system and seeing all the data as it is being put there; the queries, he sees it. Then, the agent already licensed sits in his office, open his system, and is seeing all that concerns him because he is logged in.
He will see the goods that have been examined and the ones awaiting examination; he does not have to go there. If they say there is no SONCAP, he sends in the SONCAP through the system. So the idea of me to take delivery of cargo and it is already out of the port, but SON waylays it just to asks for SONAP does not arise! Why can’t we resolve it digitally?
“And as you are doing that, if you noticed an officer is trying to put you in trouble, and because we are not seeing face to face, let’s say where your classification is saying 10 per cent and the man is inputting 20 percent; there and then you answer that query; knowing full well a superior officer is looking at what is going on there; and can easily intervene on the spot!
“So, you go for examination, take the photograph and put it on the system and we all see it, at the same time!
Source: Maritime First