Customs Modernization: “We are selling our birth right unknowingly”
Dr. Kayode Farinto, the Vice President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), in this interview speaks on the recent plan the Federal Government to mordernise the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), allegations of bribery among security operatives at the ports and other sundry issues.
What’s your assessment of the maritime industry since the beginning of the year?
The COVID-19 has actually killed some of our aspirations and it has affected the maritime industry negatively, so the assessment is going to be negative so to say, just because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 that ravaged the whole world.
So, we can’t say we’ve achieved anything, Nigeria is not a producing country, and 90 percent of our economy is actually import dependent, so looking at what is happening in the whole world you will agree with me that COVID 19 has taken about two third of the world economy. So, talking about achievement, we have really not been able to achieve anything this year.
So, what would you expect the maritime industry to look like post-COVID 19?
First and foremost, the government must be very proactive, a good government should be sensitive to the plight of the masses and look at what would affect the economy positively; looking at the fact that we are not producing anything.
We are likely going to have recession, looking at our balance sheet; as a student of economics, the issue of balance sheet comes in, when you talk about trade; what do you give out what, comes in? So looking at that, you will see that we have not given out anything; even our import is in comatose and it’s likely to flatten before the end of this year, so we are likely to have recession before December. The only thing government did in their own wise imagination is to have set up Post-COVID 19 palliatives funds to assist the economy, since we are not producing anything, but then government must also see how they can satisfy youth restiveness, unemployment and also address the issue of import and export. We need our economic team to sit down and look at how we can achieve a robust economy.
Government needs to look at the area of monetary policies; we have a situation now where official rate of a dollar now is N381, but the official rate is not extended to exporters, it’s only in Nigeria that you see when people want to go to Jerusalem or Saudi Arabia that the government gives official rate. So these are the things the economic team needs to look into.
We also have a situation where a micro set of people are controlling our Forex market, it’s not supposed to be so. Let me take the maritime industry for example, you want the terminal operators to pay in dollars; in the concession agreement it was said that they are going to be paying in dollars, but you are not helping them to pay in the official rate, what the terminal operators now do is to go and source for these dollars in the open market, and these people may not be able to create much employment because some of the terminal operators are supposed to be increasing in their capacity, but because the charges on their head is too much, the overhead cost is there, so a lot of things are happening to our economy, and it’s unfortunate that our economy formulators are not carrying everybody along in the industry.
What’s your reaction to the Modernization plan of the Nigeria Customs Service?
it is not concessioning per say, but it is still concessioning from the backdoor. I would say we are selling our birth right unknowingly, we have got to a situation where Nigerian government is moving 1,000 step forward and 20,000 steps backward, it is not good for our economy.
Automation of NCS, started in the era of Dikko Inde, (the former CG of Customs), we moved to the era of Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), now what we want to do is full automation, so are you now telling me that there is no Nigerian company that can be used to do full automation of customs procedures. What we now have is a situation where foreigners- emphatically Chinese have taken over these jobs and that is why I say it is Neo Colonization in another language.
Although they said they will be involved at no cost, meanwhile $3.1 billion is sourced for that; where did they get that money? Meanwhile they are not looking at the security implication of what they want to do. I expect the government to be very proactive, they have given a contract of scanning machine that is worth over N20 billion, I expect the government to now consolidate on that, if we have scanners, it’s going to improve the productivity of Customs personnel, while insisting that Nigeria Customs personnel should man our scanning machines and this will reduce the burden of 100% examination and the issue of automation is something that will just happen by itself directly or indirectly. But the issue now is: are we now saying with this contract given to foreigners, it’s going to remove the check points we have on the roads? The answer is No, so the automation is done in secrecy and we don’t even have the details of it.
Is it compulsory that you know the details?
I am a Nigerian, I am entitled to it, because it’s supposed to be a public document.
There is a relationship between the average licensed customs agent and the Customs officers, you are an interested party, can you be honest?
Why not, the issue is that do you know the licensed customs agent can generate N3 trillion in a year; all that the government needs to do is to say, customs agents with genuine declaration will be given two percent of whatever they generate on a yearly basis. Cost Insurance Freight (CIF), if I have an importer who is in the habit of surcharging federal government, I will instantly tell him you can’t do it, because I know that if I generate N100 million, I am entitled to two percent of that money, and this will increase the level of compliance and boost our moral to deliver. But in a situation where it is “To Your Tent Oh Israel”, even when we pay genuine duty, our documents still move in a speed of snail, and that is why we are not getting it right in the industry. So the encouragement is not there, even where you have made genuine declaration, you will still see officers questioning why you have done this or that.
Even for the officers, the Arusha Declaration states that you must increase the remuneration of customs officers to encourage them to want do better, but what do we have in Nigeria we have a situation where a Customs officer when posted from Borno to Tin Can, may find himself sleeping in customs enforcement for another one month before he gets his feet.
Does that justify Bribe?
It does, it is logical, somebody who is generating money for you to the tune of hundreds of millions and he is not taking care of, what do you think will happen, money is a spirit; before you know it he will be tempted and bribe comes in.
But the giver of the bribe is the clearing agents; which shows that clearing agents are also culpable?
I am not saying we are not culpable, if among the 12 disciples of Jesus, we could have Judas, our population as clearing agents is over 3,000, so you can imagine the numbers of Judas we have in the industry. If government is seen to have done the right thing and there is an enabling environment, it will only take any average clearing agent about three hours to get out of Apapa.
I had a consignment that I loaded last week and between Liverpool to Apapa, I spent close to about N200,000 on bribe and just when it was about entering Mid Maritime our TDO expired, I had to go and pay about N38,000 before the truck was allowed to load. Meanwhile there are people who are ready to short-changed the system, they do what whatever they like and get out, and that is why the government must create the enabling environment to avoid all these.
Since you raised the issue of bribe, are you saying the taskforce are also culpable?
Of course, that is obvious and I say it emphatically
Who collect the bribe from the truckers?
The various security agencies at the port, the police is involved, the military is involved, NPA security is involved; among others.