Last week, the management of APM Terminals Ltd, perhaps ignorantly set a storm rolling, when it blamed the delay in cargo clearance on the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). This unsettled the Apapa Area 1 Customs Command, which in this interview tries to put the records straight. Deputy Comptroller Yusuf Ibrahim, the ASYCUDA Project Manager (APM) Apapa Customs Command, speaks with MMS Plus Weekly. His explanation is full of revelations and surprises. Read on:
APM Terminals LTD came up again with blame on who is responsible for delay in cargo delivery in Apapa port. This time they said it is the customs. So what do you have to say?
Well, I never knew about delay in cargo delivery as far as customs cargo procedure is concerned .The Nigeria Custom Service has a robust cargo clearance procedure that are fully implemented from trigger zone to Customs zone. It starts from when you lodge a declaration, you go to the bank and pay, following which se is triggered. After selectivity you then know your lane. The blue lane is fast- track, if you are for physical examination, you head for inspection inside the terminal, if you are going for documentary, that is, examination in the customs processing unit (CPU) or for scanning.
So if APMT is talking about delay, is it delay in physical examination in which they know that somebody has to book for a week or two weeks before they drop cargo, that is after selectivity has been triggered? The moment selectivity is triggered, somebody is there to examine the cargo that day or a day after .But in APMT you have to make booking .What is the reason for the booking?The cargo is there on the ground .Now the question is, is it as a result of lack of equipment that you have to book or lack of enough members of staff? Or is it a gimmick to extort demurrage from people?
So is this part of the delay that customs cause? I don’t understand .And with a week or more delay when they drop the container, custom goes to examine the container there and then .There is a stipulated time for the examination of the containers twice a day. Customs are always there to examine the containers after which they process the delivery .Is there any situation where APMT dropped a container and customs refused to perform examination?
How did customs become an embodiment of threat in the port, particularly in relation to APMT? I think I need to be educated more on how customs is the agency causing delay in cargo clearance chain in the port.
The commonsensical understanding here is that some people are trying to cover their dirty linen and end up smearing other peoples integrity in the process because when you look at it, that’s what it is. If APMT is talking about maintenance of scanners, every machine needs a maintenance. Even as the scanners in Apapa Area1 Customs command is being maintained, the Comptroller General of Customs(CGC) called for the deployment of the scanner in PTML to Apapa to ensure a seamless flow of the job. Also, the Area Controller of Customs in Apapa directed that all containers for scanning be moved for physical examination to ensure a quick turn around time of vessels. Can APMT tell Nigerians what they did when they had a breakdown in their e-plat form for more than a month? Within this period people were running up and down. Did they talk about that? Is it not the same APMT that claimed it had built a corporate office for customs officers? An office that can not take a one third of the officers there.
Did they not check the strength of the officers before embarking on the building? Was there any addition in the number of officers? Why can’t you sit down and look at your process and procedures and make amendments on them, you are trying to point fingers at somebody. The last time you( APMT) blamed the shipping companies for being responsible for the delay in cargo clearance now it is the customs, whose turn is it the next? Why can’t APMT look at its processes and find out where the problem is? How many forklifts, gantry cranes and other relevant equipment does APMT have? How long can APMT continue to hide itself? APMT has more than 800 requests for cargo positioning per day, how many do they attend to? The request for container drop for examination per day is 800, they only attend to 200 containers. Even, they share the 200.
How do they get them shared?
They share them 100 containers for afternoon session and another 100 containers for evening session. Why do they have to do that?
So what happens to the remaining 600 containers?
They are stuck in the booking process.
So if the 600 of today are moved to the next day, you now have an accumulated 1,200 containers unattended to. Who pays the demurrage?
Looking at that under normal situation, what then happened when their e-platform broke down? They were busy collecting money from the helpless shippers and their agents until the shippers’ council intervened. Also, the associations of clearing agents faulted that by saying it is not their making and so they would not pay for APMT mistakes or negligence. I think that people should be rational in their comments.
From what is on ground, this scenario has been on for four years now, is APMT usually not part of your monthly stakeholders’ meeting in this command?
They are part of it and they have always been attacked by stakeholders and they have always made promises.
Yet no changes made over the years?
Does customs have the right to report them or penalize them in this case?
How can customs penalize them? You have the shippers’ council which is the regulatory body. You also have the NPA there. It is no customs business .Our job as customs is very clear. Drop the cargo and do examination, bring the Cargo and pay duty. if you refuse to drop the cargo, it is not my problem. It is the importer or agent who has problem with you, the terminal operator. We work when there is work to do.
There was this angleof explanation from your public relations officer on a fixed and mobile scanning machines, can you explain that?
Like I said earlier, every machine needs maintenance. Even human beings can break down. It happens that one scanner is fixed and the other is mobile while we were maintaining the fixed scanner the mobile scanner was working but the capacity of the mobile scanner to accommodate cargo is not satisfactory. That is why the CGC directed for the transfer of the mobile scanner from PTML to Apapa. Also, on seeing that the CAC, Apapa had made a proactive arrangement that all containers selected for scanning be routed for physical examination. It is the same scanning officers that will conduct the physical examination. The cargo will be revealed to avoid loss of revenue and ensure security on the cargo. So, I don’t think there is issue here .Human beings go for medical checks, because from time to time as humans you fall sick, talk less of machine that is man- made.
What is the issue of boarding a vessel and how is that causing delay in cargo delivery process?
How can the issue of boarding a vessel become an issue of delay? The moment a cargo is reported, reporting means getting a manifest and getting a rotation number by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA),then you go for boarding. You submit your paper to enforcement which works 24 hours. So this has nothing to do with the APMT. Does it pay for one hour delay of cargo? They are only the custodian of cargo, they are not shipping companies and they are a transit point, it is not a holding bay. So why are they mixing things up? When their system broke down we tried to make them release these cargoes to other terminals but they greedily refused. Many bonded terminals are there empty .Even Lilypond, their own terminal they refused. So what is the problem? Release these things, they are your sister, they refused. Is it now that they have about 45 percent decrease in cargo throughout that they are talking about delay in cargo clearance? When they had 100 percent cargo capacity, customs did not delay cargo clearance. Please the value chain is there. Every stakeholder is very important and everybody is there to do his or her work. If you have a missing link in your process try to fix it up, don’t try to blame another person for that. Our process is very practical, plain and transparent. We can only delay a cargo when there is an intervention and that is maybe 5 percent out of 100 percent
We have entered the second half of the year, how would you describe the performance of the command in revenue collection so far?
You will agree with me that the year started with political campaign and that slowed down business activities. Now, people are expectant on what the new government would be like. There is also the expectation of the fiscal policies from government for direction. Again there is the devaluation of the naira. All these factors slow down trade .Even at this, the customs service with the supervision of the CGC made sure that we tightened all nuts to avoid revenue leakages. Our revenue figures have been on surplus despite the lull in activities. From January 2015 to this point, our revenue figures in Apapa Command hover between 22 and 24 billion naira each month, so our revenue profile is within the acceptable range looking at the level of importation now. Looking at the statistics and the variables associated with it, we have an increment of more than 15 percent in revenue generation in correlation with that of last year and that is because the CGC is always on his feet. With the new welfare package for customs, officers can do anything to ensure that the revenue is duly protected.
There is this argument among agents that customs makes so much money at the expense of the agents and at the end of the day, they (agents) are looking poverty stricken and can hardly feed. How do you react to this?
(laughs) This is interesting! Literally, for instance, you are my friend and we are working together and I am making so much money, why not pause and ask why? That is, if you cannot ask me.
There must be something wrong somewhere….
So there must be a problem somewhere. That is mere allegation. Does my appearance suggest making money? Four years ago, I was collecting N50,000 as salary, today I collect more than N300,000 .So I can’t possibly look the same way. My welfare package is enough for me now. My CAC had told you once that he had gone to a bank seeking fund to pay his children’s’ school fees, they refused to give him. Now bankers are coming to customs officers asking them to come and collect loan. Did they go to these agents to ask them to come and collect loans? Now they know we have a good salary. So people talking should talk with reasons.