He stood in for the Comptroller General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Abdulahi Inde at last week’s AGM /NECOM Meeting of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). ACG Victor Gbemudu seized the opportunity to field questions from licensed customs agents and journalists on some burning issues that are affecting the Nigeria Customs Service relationship with its core publics. Our correspondent, Dapo Olawuni was there and he put this together.
What is Customs current position on benchmark?
I know a lot of issues are in the front burners today, for example the issue of benchmark or no benchmark, this issue does not even have to arise at all, we belong to the World Custom Organisation (WCO) and WTO, we have what they call transaction planning, but what we are saying here is that please and please declare what you have and pay your appropriate duties, the duty is the bottom line. I heard a lot of people are not at the ports today, go back to the port and pay your duty, the Nigeria Customs Service is ready to accept your duties, go back to the port and do your declaration. When appropriate duties are not paid, we have the CEMA there for us, we are guided by section 46, 47 and 164, the government needs this money and the bottom line is that this N1trillion is achievable, we can realize this and I want you all to partner with us. Talk to your importers and tell them that the days of evasion of duties is over, the government needs these money to carry out developmental programmes, my Comptroller General started this transformation agenda even before President Jonathan came into office, the Customs of today is not the Customs of yesteryears, the days of frivolities are over, advice your importers to please pay these duties, it is for me, you and generations yet to be born, there is infrastructural decay in this country because duties and a lot of dues are not being accounted for, let me assure you that forthwith, we are all going to partner, there should be no quarrel, and I don’t think we should labor on issues that are very contentious, petition does not need to evolve, there is need for dialogue from time to time, even in our ASYCUDA system today there is query, and when things are queried they will need to be reconciled, it’s not always garbage in and garbage out, let us all partner together and have it at the bottom of our minds that the target being set for Customs will be realized and achieved.
Some agents have also claimed that valuation officers at the command refuse to adhere to the cancellation of benchmark
What a coincidence, I just took the saddle in zone ‘A’ yesterday, and today I am in the front burner. Let me state it that I know the issue on everybody’s mind is the issue of benchmark. Let me say that unlike in the past, when you have issues, that is why I am here, stop by in my office and make your complaints, you don’t need to run to Abuja when things can be solved here. I did hear somebody say that they went to Apapa and benchmark removal is not adhered to, let me tell you what you will do, my doors are open, come over to Harvey road, table your issues and I think we will have an amicable resolution.
There is indiscipline among officers; AC’s and valuation officers do not respect CACs, how will you address this?
I will tell you here and now that the Nigeria Custom Service is a disciplined service, valuation, CIU and so on are all under the same service and we are partners, an officer can be in valuation unit, CIU or a resident officer, the valuation is there just to assist the controller of the area to achieve his revenue, they are all supposed to partner together to achieve a common goal, whenever issues go wrong it is the area controller that is held responsible and not the valuation officer, when you have issues like this, take it up with the comptroller, and if you are not satisfied please get back to my office. I want us to please play down on some of these issues, get back to me and right there, we will call the controller and I think we can always resolve issues.
With the issue of benchmark, it appears that Custom has become a revenue collector and has shunned trade facilitation
Let me say that this benchmark thing should be put to rest for now, we are not treating any issue like benchmark anymore, I think this issue on benchmark has been unduly over flooded, it is not something we should lose sleep over, the bottom line here is the collection of our revenue, make your declarations and be guided by our section 46, 47 and 164, let me state here now that our doors are even open on Saturdays, go there on Saturday and pay your duty, we are going to work on Saturdays to clear all these backlog, we need these revenues, we have to achieve it we have to get it, so it is no longer an issue of Monday to Friday, on Saturday we are there so please go there and pay your duty, the issue of benchmark does not arise anymore, we believe solely in trade facilitation, it is one of the agenda of my comptroller general, and it is synonymous to our job, we are here to collect the duty and let importers collect their goods, we are not in any way standing on anybody’s back.
In the new CEMA Bill before the House of Representatives, it appears the power of the presidency has been removed completely
A few days was given for public hearing and those are enough days for you to make your own contributions, it is a national thing and not a Customs affair, if you still have issue that concerns the CEMA, the bill has not been passed, so there is still an ample opportunity to make your contributions, it is open to the general public.
Blockage of agents’ licenses and blocking of cargo
Have we been able to ask ourselves that why do we have blockages? Blockage of license means that you have been caught with one misdemeanor or the other, so this is not an issue. The other issue is the blocking of cargo which we can look into, sometimes you see a document, what is on the RAR in terms of quantity or description will be different from what we have on the declaration, sometimes in quantities too, these are the things we receive alert on, either from the area or from the headquarters, because when there is gross under value, there will be an alert that you have to reroute the cargo to CPC for clearance. I know that my Comptroller General has started a town hall meeting with stakeholders, this meeting will continue but this time around I will appeal to stakeholders, including ANLCA and other sister agencies that whenever we have these meetings, the importers should also be invited, let our importers come along so that we will share these things together, let them know that we all are in the firing range, there is no hiding place, lets pay our duties appropriately.
Why do valuation officers still go into the system?
Before now, we all know that in the days of perfect bill of entry and SGD, if there is any need for valuation, it will be endorsed on the entry, but now there is no entry, valuation does not go for examination, valuation officers now stay in their office, they now go into the system if they notice that there is anything wrong in the declaration, it is only normal for them to make their observation inside the system so that the releasing officer will know and take note because they are no longer expected to be in the terminal, so valuation can make inputs right from the system.
Discounts on duty payments
There is what we call allowable discounts and non-allowable discounts, if it is allowable, then you will be granted, if it is not allowable it will be rejected. At this point, I also want you to take seriously the issue of stamping for non-licensed agents, from experience and all the assignments I have been doing over the years, I have seen innocent agents suffer for what they don’t know about, these are things they did not do, but because they stamped for other persons. The last one was in Yaba, the number of licensed agents that came there all showed that the jobs were not done by them, but by people they stamped for, and now, if people you are stamping for are doing bad jobs with your license, why would you still continue to give them the license.