Concerns trail $450m e-Customs agenda
The e-Customs (paperless) agenda of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), and its $450million deal with the African Finance Corporation (AFC), has elicited concerns from stakeholders in the maritime sector, who believe that the system requires critical examination to avoid another digital mess.
The stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian, believe the realisation of such agenda might be elusive going by the fact that the e-auction system operated by the Customs for about two years has failed.
Besides, they stressed the need to completely overhaul the NCS, and train its officers to be automation compliant, citing massive rot in its operations.
The Managing Director of Bionica Technologies W.A Ltd., Umar Kuta, had recently told the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Finance, Customs and Public Petitions, that the AFC is set to invest $450 million in the automation of the operations of the NCS for its turnaround within 12 months.
Kuta said the platform would improve revenue generation by the NCS, and enhance security at the nation’s borders, saying: “A complete automation of the activities of the NCS within 12 months will boost revenue and eliminate all forms of sharp practices in the system.”
A member of the Presidential Committee on Customs Reforms, Lucky Amiwero, in a chart with The Guardian, urged the government to look critically into the deal, noting that there is an existing ePlatform that Customs operate, which only needs an upgrade.
Amiwero, who is the President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), said: “Customs should revisit the existing platform that is what happened in America some years ago. They were having two platforms and they had to harmonise them to become one. Already, we have a platform, which belongs to the Customs; the Webb Fontaine Platform is a Customs platform, which was contracted under the 2006 Destination Inspection regime. What that platform needs is just to have a licence. Since 2013, Webb Fontaine is supposed to have handed over the platform to Customs because it is Customs platform going by the agreement.
“There is a need for Customs to harmonise those things and not for them to introduce another one. They are trying to duplicate it. Government needs to look at it critically, what we only need is to get the licence from the service providers, and spend some small money to upgrade the modules.
“What the Customs needs is to get an expert, look into the platform, and get a licence from the service providers. The platform has procedures such as the ASYCUDA ++, and the executive platform should be upgraded. That is what our committee recommended. Getting a new system completely will amount to duplication and waste of money,” he said.
Amiwero explained further: “What Customs have now is e-platform because from their system, Customs supply the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). When you say e-platform, it means that linking up Customs with shipping companies is electronic; linking up with terminal operators is electronic; linking up with banks is electronic; linking up from Customs to Customs is electronic; and clearing agents to Customs to is electronic, if you have the DTI (Direct Traders Input). I was a member of the Destination Inspection Committee, and a member of Customs Reforms Committee, and these thing are there.
“In the electronic platforms, you have the backbone whereby all the transactions are done electronically. Yes, Customs might have some setbacks, but they can overcome that by upgrading and training of officers. These things are very clear; we don’t need to go into new agreement again,” he said.
Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto, said: “The e-customs agenda is one of the conditions of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), but my concern is that there is a need for attitudinal change on the part of the Customs. How workable is the agenda? Is it that same Customs that will want to see all documents on every consignment? NCS has to train their officers; there should be what we call attitudinal change on their part before this new agenda can work effectively.
“It’s not about just bringing a new policy, you must sensitise some people; they have not sensitised them. Half of the Customs officers don’t understand what they are saying. It’s so unfortunate.
“The Customs have not been able to perfect the e-auction platform after several years, but they are now talking of paperless agenda,” he said.
Farinto noted that, “If the new agenda is pursued vigorously, it would facilitate my job as a clearing agent, it would eliminate a lot of bottlenecks; it would eliminate a lot of Customs formation, but you will still see the human factor. You will still see a situation whereby some officers will come in additional unit, and say they are e-Customs Unit.
“In fact, the whole of NCS needs reorganisation, complete overhaul so that they can cope with the global modernisation. Nigeria is the type that wants to jump without crawling; it’s unfortunate,” he said.
Meanwhile, the NCS described the e-customs as an end-to-end electronic flow of Customs processes; electronic shift from paper (manual) work to electronic flows. This, it stated in its social media jingle, would boost revenue collection, improve security by controlling the import and export good secured, reducing evasion and smuggling, providing accurate economic statistics and open to all users such as trader, agencies and inspectors.
It added that the e-Customs would boost the Customs capacity to better police the borders, and ensure better monitoring of what comes in or goes out.
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