Cargo Scanning: Why Customs Is Performance-Deficient- Ogunojimite

Cargo Scanning: Why Customs Is Performance-Deficient- Ogunojimite
Otunba Frank Ogunojimite, President APFFLON

Otunba Frank Ogunojimite  is the amiable president of the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of  Nigeria ( APFFLON). In this interview with MMS Plus Ogunojimite x- rays the performance of the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) since the re introduction of the scanner in the ports. The APFFLON leader believes that inadequate training or lack of it is the reason why Customs has been having challenges in the operation of the Scanners ,which ultimately leads to delay and increase in demurrage by importers. Why did the NCS terminate the contract of Cotecna under the pre- shipment inspection era? Was there enough stakeholders’ engagement before the reintroduction of scanning? How far can a single  scanner go in the service of thousands of boxes in a single day?

All the answers are in this interview with Frank Odinukaeze. Excerpts.

 

Since the re-introduction of scanning machine by the NCS, it has been one issue or the other .There is the issue of delays and demurrage, etc. As one in the front line,what is it that causes delay  and demurrage?

Well, I will say all of the above. Because why I’m going to say that it is because it’s been a long time since the Cotecna and Global scan, all of them left, before the NCS came  up with the issue of scanning,

I want to believe that they have not been retrained . They have not been updated in the usage of scanner, because last year we were in the National Assembly in the House of Representatives, discussing this issue of scanner and I made my observation on that. Now the question is: Have the customs officers been retrained and updated? Is it the same people who were in operation when Cotecna, Global scan were  in operation that are  still there? How did they go about it? Have they had stakeholders’ engagements with shipping and terminal operators  and all of that? Have they   considered to wave  demurrage at certain levels of operation  because of the use of scanner? I believe they have not addressed or considered all these. Before the concession of the terminals, it was the customs and the NPA that were in place  and usually when there is a problem, the customs will write  to NPA, of course NPA is the landlord , they are on ground. They know there is an issue.

So, what they do is: They wave the rent for that customer. But this time, probably because it’s not part of the concession agreement. They don’t wave rent, except in some critical circumstances before they can wave people’s rent, though  not on general operations rent. It’s not  it’s supposed to be so , because all these we add to the cost of bringing in  goods to this country. These are the things that add to inflations. So, I believe that there is no proper engagements between the customs and the stakeholders before they came back to the reintroduction of the scanner. Of course, there must be problems to be honest with you. Even if they have been trained up to date, to practicalize your training , you might have an issue one way or the other which might  lead to demurrage or rent. But we are not supposed to suffer on every issue in the industry. Don’t forget that most of these shipping terminals are owned by foreigners and the way our  money is carted away in this country is baffling. There is capital repatriation or capital flight. So to me all of them have to be addressed.

Under the pre- shipment  regime in 1996,Cotecna was doing the pre- shipment inspection for the NCS, but Customs felt they were paying so much for the contract with Cotecna ,and so they took over without adequate training of personnel to handle the machines, and we reverted to physical examination . Now there is reintroduction of scanning and we are also having challenges of performance and all sorts of issues.

 

Do you think we should simply stick to physical examination instead of scanning?

  No.What I said is that during that time of contract with Cotecna , they were up to date. But you know since  2012 or 2013, they left the usage of scanner. The point is that the people  handling the scanner then most of them have been promoted. They must have been transferred to different areas. They must have probably been retired. If you look at it for over ten years, we were without the use of scanner. Even if it is you or myself that has stopped using computer now  for about 2 years, going back to it, we might find it difficult to get used to the monitor or  the key boards to master that. So that’s why I am saying to you that there could have been a gap for them to be retrained and engage other stakeholders because the possibility of ineffectiveness will obviously amount to rent. No matter the delay with your containers, Customs is still going to get their own revenue through the delay. What this  means  is that the importer or consignee will have to pay additional charges. So if they had  previous  training, then they must have lost touch. They must have been promoted and may have  been transferred to different places. As far as I know, there  have not been any training for them. In fact, there is nothing wrong for Customs to have a department  solely charged with training of their personnel . If you look at the military, you will find all sorts of people with training in different fields.

What stops Customs from having a department that repairs equipment like the scanners in the service? After all, it’s an ongoing project. We can never go back to physical examination again otherwise, Nigerian will have its membership of community of maritime nations. That’s my take on that. They need to be retrained otherwise the damage would be more than what they are doing now. Don’t forget most of the scanners they  are not new. They bought just few new ones. According to the original manufacturing company some scanner left were still good to be used because they were actually in that meeting in the House of Reps. But the fact is that they need proper service to be more effective. Customs should tell us if the present people operating the machine have gone through training. And if they have, who trained them? Are they deliberately doing it to cause the people to pay more  on their consignments?

Are you insinuating that the present scanners are old? I remember government spent N9BN to purchase scanners some years ago? Are the scanners the ones you are referring to? 

No, they do have new scanners now .But they still have old scanners. So I don’t know if they are using both the old and new scanners because , according to Cotecna’s representative  that supplied them the machines  said they have old scanners still available. They said the old scanners can still be used. They even said some  have not been installed. Since then they said that even if they get new ones that does not mean they should pack up the old  ones that were being used then.

So the confusion is: Even if they are using the new scanners are they  being trained to handle it effectively? If they have a trainer are they helping in the process of the scanning? The reason why we are having this problem is because of the lackadaisical attitude of people  in this country . For instance, the Cyber Manager of  Web Fontane  said, when there is a breakdown, nobody does anything about it. And at the end of the day, it is importer or the consignee that bear the brunt. So, if the scanner is not working this people will not care. They won’t care because it does not have any effect on them.   They are not being penalized for delaying people’s consignments. But if you don’t take your consignments you are being penalized by paying rent. There is no sanction, no penalty for their ineffectiveness.  Not even compensation. Nothing for the importer or consignee. They do what  they like. There is no proper monitoring ,and because of that  they can sabotage the usage of that machine  as the machine can invariably  reduce the sharp practices and interface.

 So there are a lot of impediments that could sabotage the usage of that machine.

Is one scanning machine enough to service the Tin Can Island Port, Port and Cargo Handling Terminal, PTML among others, in view of the volume of work there?

Obviously one machine  cannot be enough but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. So if you start with one, you can begin to add more. It is better than when we had nothing, then we were only reduced to physical examination. Definitely, they have to improve. And they have to add more.

Customs claim that some freight agents forge  valuation papers  outside, are you aware of this?

Well, it is an allegation that all of us keep hearing.But I want to tell you that it takes two to tango. If there is no compromise or complicity with others, nobody would dare do that. They should check themselves before they can check outside. If it happens, it’s a collaboration.  So both sides have to be checked. There are bad eggs among from freight forwarders as well as Customs.

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