Freight agents have expressed apprehension over the slow but sure return of government agencies to the ports, at a stakeholder’s meeting in Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), yesterday.
The agencies which were sacked and made to go online as part of measures to reduce delay in trade facilitation, now insist on being part of container examination before signing clearance documents.
A representative of the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Julie Ogboru lamented that the agencies have become a thorn in their flesh, stressing that if papers are signed during examinations by Customs there should be a rule that the agencies who were not present during examination should also sign instead of requesting for a second examination which is time wasting and cost money.
In her words, “The agencies have become a thorn in our flesh. After examination, everybody should sign the examination paper at the point of examination, it should be once. The Controller should put his foot down and insist that any agency that was not present at an examination should go ahead and sign the documents since the Customs was there and allow the container to go. Instead the officers will say go and sort it out. This should not be so.”
She further stated that the Command should set up a committee to look at controversial issues concerning the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), instead of referring agents to Abuja which she says costs time and money, noting that the PAAR is a paper generated by Customs and Customs is supposed to facilitate trade.
Another agent, Antony Oyia advised that Customs should set Customs valuation benchmarks that are transparent to avoid assumptions, and regarding time for examination as well, to avoid agencies claiming that they did not witness the examination, adding that since the agencies were not represented at the meeting, the Controller should have a meeting with them to let them know the outcome of the stakeholders’ meeting.
Responding, the Customs Area Controller Willy Egbudin promised that he will arrange a meeting with the concerned agencies to resolve the matter with them, stressing that there is a specific time for examination, which is between 10am to 4pm.
Regarding the PAAR he said, “PAAR is not issued in Apapa, it is issued from Abuja and when issues are raised, we try to solve them here, but if we cannot, you will have to go to Abuja. Most times these issues usually bother on wrong declaration or classification.”
Egbudin urged agents to educate the importers they represent on the proper process of trade, and the implication of filling their Form M accurately as these issues can be avoided. He also advised agents to start processing their documentation before the cargo arrives to save time.
Similarly, the representative from the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) Mrs. Celine Ifeora pleaded with agents to exercise patience with the difficulties experienced with agencies in the ports noting that we are in a democracy and with time they (the agents) will begin to see the benefits of the Council.
She appealed that they should not hesitate to reach out to the Council on any hitches they may have while clearing their cargo, like getting container deposit refund, among others.
Earlier in his opening address, Egbudin gave a brief review of the revenue of the command, “For the Command the revenue figure for 2014 was N301 billion and in 2015 it came down to N288 billion and this year, in January, we realized 23.4 billion compared to N20.7 billion that was generated same period last year. This shows that we have started well and we need to build on this. This year we intend to increase our revenue to the government to N400-500 billion. And if we are honest in our business, we should be able to achieve this target.”
On the increased revenue target by the Service to N1.1 trillion and the government revenue target projection of 4.7 trillion, He assured, “The government does not intend to kill the few people still in the business of importation because of revenue generation. We plan to block revenue leakages, that is what we mean, we will not take any revenue that does not belong to the government.”
By Ifeoma Oguamanam