N1.4trn customs’ revenue terget: Give licensed customs agents incentives demands, ANLCA boss

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Prince Olayiwola Shittu is a member of the Presidential Implementation Committee on ports reforms, and National President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with Peoples Daily, he lamented that the reports of the committee has not been implemented several months after it was presented to President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. He also talked about the need for a seamless cargo clearance process at the nation’s ports. Dapo Olalekan brings excerpts.

How is the relationship between agents and customs with regards to paperless transactions at the ports?

We preempted cashless operations at the port. Association of Nigeria Licensed Custom Agents (ANLCA) has championed paperless transactions in the industry, don’t forget that the Federal Government makes policies, but the Nigeria Custom Service enforces the policies while licensed custom agents implements the policies. There is nothing ever done apart from administrative means of achieving enforcement that can be attributed to customs. Customs cannot ban an item, it is the Federal Government that can ban an article from being imported, the enforcement is what is in the hands of customs, and as long as they continue to improve on that enforcement it will affect those who don’t want to comply because right from time Nigerians have the penchant to be non compliant.
Government has given incentives to customs, increased their salaries and everybody has been commending them, but has government looked at those who are to implement these policies and give them incentives? Like it is done elsewhere and in government departments where they get consultants to see how certain projects are achieved and they pay them, when government asked customs to generate revenue, the customs will not go to the sea and bring cargo; it will not go and look for importers that will come and pay, it is the customs agents that are the interface, they should be given incentives to realize the revenue target by making sure that the importer pays correct duties, making sure that cargoes come straight to the port where the duties will be collected rather than going to smuggle it. Educating and knowing the importer on behalf of the customs, customs does not know any importer and that is why they licensed agents to identify who the importer is and that is why when their is fault in the system the agent is held responsible, if half of the money given to service providers to issue RAR is given to agents as an incentive, the loop holes in the RAR issued by service providers can be blocked up to eighty percent.
For every job you do and pay correct duty to government, they should be given something. In those days, if a custom officer is able to detect an under-payment, government gives him a percentage, but this is no longer existing. When you say a licensed customs agents should go and get his wages from the importer, he ends up worshiping the importer because that is where his wages is coming, he does everything the importer ask him to do so that he can continue to patronize him, if the importer is not ready to pay his wage, he will also find a way to help himself,
so who is to blame?
Customs has a list of the agencies they have licensed, if one percent of the revenue is given to those who helped to pay, you will discover that fraud will reduce to the barest minimum, this is where government should look at.

How much is standard fees that should be collected by agents from importers?

It is the job of the CRFFN to set that standard, they have already issued the standard trading condition. We are working with them now to have a benchmark for the wages of an agent since the government is not ready. For example, engineers have a specified amount they charge, medical doctors and other professionals also do, but in order for customs agents not to go hungry is the main reason why they undercut and there is no way we can find out, this is why the issue of CRFFN benchmark has not come up, for some of us, the people we work for, we charge them one percent of C and F because it is our professional fee. If you remove fraud from the system, the profession pays itself, for example, in America no importer pays duty, it is the custom broker that pays the duty, the way it is done in America is what we want to practice here, that’s why you see us having our biometric identity card, each identity card is based on employment by licensed companies so that it becomes traceable, with this card you can clear your goods and make business transactions online, but because service providers know that it is when you are with them that they can find mistakes somewhere and delay you, if a custom officer delays you the demurrage is counting, the shipping company is happy that your container is with them and they are collecting money on it; terminal is collecting rent.
In order to avoid all these you will have to sort them out. If an importer comes to you and present a document that you know is not correct, it is your duty to do the correct thing, it is because of this laxity in the system that made so many people to come in and borrowing licenses to clear their jobs, this is so because people who have licenses do not have jobs to clear, many people who don’t have licenses have cargoes to clear, some importers will send their relations to the agent for him to be trained, the boy may not have spent more than six months before they pronounce him a qualified agent, he will subsequently be given cargoes to clear while he in turn sublets it to his former master to clear because the master wants to survive.
Again, it is because of lack of compliance that we are having so much checks and double checks at the ports, when you are having multiple checks, it means that something is wrong with the system because somebody has already shortchanged in the beginning in order to give room for the double check people to be settled.
How can we then achieve seamless flow of goods clearance?

This was why the Presidential Committee on Port Reforms which I was a member and chairman of the sub-committee on technical issues borrowed leaf from America and designed five smart steps to cargo clearance.
This five steps also took note of the PAAR from customs, it is part of the five smart steps that customs is trying to implement now, with these steps, by the time you carry out pre-assessment you will have less job left to do, by then you will just be waiting for your cargo, it is only when your cargo goes through scanning and they discover something wrong that they can separate it for verification, but majority would have gone because customs already know the anticipatory volume that is coming, but here nothing has been heard about the five smart steps, what killed it was the remaining four steps.
Our maritime industry is dominated by agencies of government belonging to different ministries supervised by different ministers, and it takes inter-ministerial meetings to resolve certain issues, each of the agencies have a supervisory ministry of equal ranks, Minister of Health can not give instruction to SON directly, it must go through the other minister, and if the one in charge knows that it is not helping the organization, he will ignore it, this is why it takes them a long time to harmonize issues. Custom is under Finance ministry, Quarantine is under ministry of Agriculture, yet you want things to work fluidly, under five smart steps, cargoes that require regulatory authority has been issued and placed online, when we did the five smart steps we invited the stakeholders in order to debate its efficacy, many of them complained that there is no electricity in Nigeria, but you and I know that you can receive mails from your phones today, we are all carrying i-pad around, but because of that Nigerianess in us, the system has not worked.
The five smart steps would have reduced the number of the people in the port by at least 70%, it is only the dock labor that will remain, we do not need people loitering around with the pretense of waiting for their jobs, you will see one person carrying a single Bill of Laden and ten other people will follow him, they will tell you that the ten people are apprentice learning the job, the time of learning the job like that is gone, go to the accredited training school of the CRFFN and learn freight forwarding, set up your own company and get the necessary approvals, get your CRFFN approval to operate, get your customs license, register with the shipping companies and register with the terminals, if you do these nobody will disturb you, but the problem here is that all of us want to cut corners and that is why you see people coming in as errand boys and after some times they will tell you that they are agents, and they end up getting jobs because they have uniform godfathers in the system using them to clear cargoes.
Every time I summarize I use to say that the problem is the Federal Government, the implementation committee started well, majority of the members of the committee are importers, manufacturers and people of means, they don’t need these cheap money from anybody, we never took any allowances, we brought out the five smart steps that was presented at the Presidential retreat on maritime and everybody applauded us, by now we should have been clearing cargo in three days or two, the report was referred to a committee headed by the minister of transport, after this nobody have heard anything again, those of us in the committee are no longer called for meetings, it is what the government wants, if it wanted to change the system it can do it because it is the will power.
Today you will see that fifteen percent of the people roaming around the port are trying to locate their container, but it is not their job to find the container, it is the job of the shipping company to block-stack the container somewhere and have it on record, because of non compliance, customs has decided to be doing hundred percent examination, in doing this they have been able to discover certain low value declaration and concealment that have led to Debit Notes being raised in order to meet their target, but you and I know that you cannot have target given to customs and at the same time be talking of trade facilitation, you can only facilitate trade when their is genuine declaration.

The post N1.4trn customs’ revenue terget: Give licensed customs agents incentives demands, ANLCA boss appeared first on Peoples Daily Newspaper, Nigeria.

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Posted in Nigerian Newspapers. A DisNaija.Com network.

Source: People’s Daily Newspaper

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