*Chinese consortium pockets N30.8billion monthly
* To generate N5.2 trillion annually in a bedridden economy
* Operators call for transparency
The new e-Customs modernization project is under threat of being jettisoned by next management of Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) over what some big- wigs in the system described as blunder in the contract and usurpation of statutory powers conferred on the service by Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA.).
Alleged to be politically motivated with trails of numerous unanswered questions, and desperation for execution at the twilight of a fading regime, the 20 years projected revenue yield of $176billion undermines realities in the service and the economy.
Meanwhile, the Comptroller General of Customs(CGC), Col. Hameed Ali(rtd) and the Acting Director General of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission(ICRC), Michael Ohiani have inferred humongous fraud in the service for which maritime stakeholders have called for a Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the extent of their claims and review the Customs modernization process and related contracts since 2001 to date.
Recall that NCS had last week signed a tripartite concession agreement with the African Finance Corporation(AFC) and Huawei Technologies Limited, a Chinese consortium of firms. The agreement said to have been mid-wifed by ICRC reportedly has the capacity to generate $176 billion in the next 20 years for NCS with 7 per cent of the total sum payable to the Chinese firm as management fee or commission. AFC is to finance the project to the tune of $3.2billion
CGC Ali while signing the agreement said the Chinese firm is expected to multiply the current N210 billion monthly revenue of Customs , while achieving full automation of Customs operations where paperless operation is the standards as import and export clearance processes is fully digitized.
He said that the project would need additional 30,000 officers in addition to the current workforce of 15,000, allaying the fears of downsizing in the system.
A breakdown of $176billion figure, using an exchange rate of N590 to a dollar shows that the project will generate $8.8billion(about N5.2trillion) annually as against the current N2.52trillion annual revenue of NCS with the threshold of N210billion generated monthly. This represents over 100 per cent increase in the current Customs revenue figures.
Meanwhile, the Chinese makes a total of $12.32billion as 7 per cent commission in 20 years with annual take home of $616million, representing N363.5billion while making N30.3billion monthly.
While this figures look unsustainable in a bleeding economy dependent on import, experts are still worried that the project is not deliberately skewed towards promoting export thereby presupposing that importers are targeted to pay more in duties and levies, a development that will trigger inflations as consequences to rise in prices of goods and services.
In another phase of argument, the projected revenue is not known to have been anchored on an increase in cargo throughput to guarantee the expected over 100 per cent increase in customs revenue in automatic fashion, expert have argued.
Some of the senior Customs officers who spoke with MMS Plus on the claimed modernization project wondered what the service had been doing since 2001 with different phases of automation projects, assuring that this will come and go like the Crown Agents of London and the Professional Import Duty Administrators(PIDA) of General Sanni Abacha regime.
They claimed that the project is politically motivated and as such would terminate with the regime that broached it.
The President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents(NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, in his reaction, said it is absurd to concession a whole professional department of customs to an unknown company that has not been inside the system.
“This country is sinking money into irrelevant things. You concession a whole department of Customs to a Chinese firm. I don’t know the company. Are they experts in customs and how do they want to improve the revenue? Are they the ones that will bring the import or that they will come and impose value or what? Let’s watch and see! I have reacted, I have written, I have spoken.
“This regime just has a life span of 6months and they are signing a 20 years project. I want to see them operate that is when I will talk. We are mortgaging the future of a professional department. Nigeria Customs is not police, or Immigration. Nigeria Customs is not Navy and you cannot compare them with Army. It is a world trained organization with procedures and experts. They have more than 100 conventions and those conventions have to do with procedures.” Amiwero who was a member of presidential reforms committee on Customs said .
In his argument, the former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke has said that there is need to set up a commission of inquiry to review the NCS modernization process and related contracts from 2001 to date since the CG Ali and ICRC director general claimed in their separate speeches that the project is a novel idea that would facilitate ease of doing business and enthrone digital smart processes and procedures in customs, thereby inferring that all the previous automation contracts and processes never existed or were not executed.
“I never believed that, all along the NCS has been wasting the tax payers’ funds, going front and back and dwelling strongly on analogue import and export trade tools applications. By their submission, there is urgent need to ascertain the veracity of the automation processes in the NCS as written and published by DC Musa Omale in his book, “Nigeria Customs Service-An Overview”(Customs Monthly Order October Edition, 2012, page 27) under the title: Development Of e-Customs Through ASYCUDA.
According to him, the service under this period developed the following electronic applications: e-manifest, e-payment,e-remittance, e-notifications,e-Government platform for single window to stakeholders in the international trade,e-release,e-provision of NCS national private telecom network.
Another issue agitating the minds of operators is the nature of the $3.2billion from AFC as it is not clear whether the fund is loan or grant, even as they call for transparency in the contract which take off date is still shrouded in secrecy.