‘Government should revisit policy on SON’s ports operations’
Dr. Paul Angya is the acting Director-General of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). In this interview with CLARA NWACHUKWU, BUSINESS EDITOR and FEMI ADEKOYA, Angya, explains why sub-standard goods still dominate the nation’s markets despite laws empowering the agency to act.
Considering the fact that the CBN mandates the issuance of Form M to monitor goods imported into the country as well as enable the collection of import duties where applicable, how come there are issues with declarations of imports and does the mandatory documentation process undermine SON’s efforts?
I do not think CBN has a policy to undermine SON. The CBN is as much interested in growing and developing the economy. It is even in the vanguard of defending the economy and these policies are made by the CBN to protect the economy. The dubious importers, I have never called them a cartel, but this group of people who have the opportunity to do this importation of substandard and fake products are clever and smarter. They have enough resources to manipulate the systems. They start manipulating the systems right from overseas. It is a bit easy for them in Nigeria because of the porosity of our security system and our regulatory systems, so they are able to play agencies against each other. As for instance, somebody imports machinery and he knows that SON is required to inspect machinery, he will do his Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), but he would declare those goods as food items for NAFDAC, so when they get to the ports even if SON is there and because SON can only inspect on invitation.
The NCS do not invite SON and because on paper, it is declared as food items subjected to NAFDAC. After passing that level, they get to the Single Goods Declaration (SGD) where the items now become machinery and this is after they pass the point where SON can look at it. We find goods in Nigeria without Form M and the goods are already at the port where the hawker is going about trying to fill Form M when those goods should not be in Nigeria. Goods are entering the country and there is a Form M that is getting through without a SONCAP certificate. It is part of the Nigerian import regime that before a product comes into Nigeria it should either have a SONCAP certificate or a certificate exempting it from SONCAP, but yet it is happening. This is where we are now.
Who do we blame for these inconsistencies?
There is only one solution. All these would not have happened if that importer knew that SON will definitely see that product before it leaves the port. All his conspiracies would have been useless as long as SON will have access to see the products before leaving the port. The first point of call when you come into Nigeria is the Customs, but the Customs beyond revenue, do not have any knowledge, expertise or responsibility for verifying quality. Their business is to make sure that if you declare that you are carrying a car, the year and value of the car, the excise duty to pay and other charges, but they do not know whether that car has a good engine or whether the car is emitting at the acceptable level of emission, because right now there is a limit to the amount of emissions that cars can do in Europe. The Customs are not in the position to determine the emission level the car is allowed to emit. It is only SON that can say this car is emitting to an acceptable standard level and this country is filled with cars that are emitting above the acceptable levels anywhere in the world. I have received absolute support from the Comptroller-General of Customs.
It was reported that 10 containers of substandard tyres got missing from ports. What is the fate of those containers?
Your guess is as good as mine and by the way how did they know that 10 containers of substandard tyres escaped, it was because the Comptroller General of Customs happened to be doing some unscheduled inspection. He decided to pay an impromptu visit to the ports and he got to the port when the importers were trying to get these containers out. They had already got about 10 out before the inspection. The Comptroller General intercepted these containers himself.
The SON Act appears to have a lot of teeth, but based on the challenges hindering your operations they do not seem to bite enough?
Rome was not built in a day. The law has provided for strict regulations, but again the environment under which the law is provided is a difficult and challenging one. I gave you the example of the port operations where the law directs SON to operate at the ports, but government in direct contrast to what the law has provided had issued a policy statement. It was not the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari but the government of President Goodluck Jonathan that issued a policy statement asking SON and some other regulatory agencies to leave the ports. The reasons for that order were explained. The order said the number of agencies were stifling the process of clearing goods at the ports.
As at that time, the major focus of government was to ease importation and we had no issues with paying our bills, we had all the money in the world, but as of today, is that order justified given the fact that the order enabled the free flow of substandard products into Nigeria without check and the order made those substandard to kill our local industries to an extent that the economy is almost gone. However, the major focus of government now, is to revamp the economy. Is that order or decision of government still valid vis-a-vis the pros and cons? We have to weigh the benefits, but then again, the circumstances are no longer the same. Today, virtually all the activities of SON are online, as long as you are going according to the legal regime that is provided, from the point of indicating that you want to import and even inquiring about the standards that you need, everything is done online.
If you want to get SONCAP certificate, you request online, you send your product certificate to the regulatory authorities in China, they look at it and verify the product quality, they issue a certificate online and with the SONCAP certificate at the Nigerian ports, nobody will stop you. You do not need to see any SON staff physically. All you have to do is pay into the bank and once it hits our account, your certificate of release order is issued. So, it is only those who want to bypass the procedure that create the opportunity to interface with regulatory agencies and when they do that, all they do is to try to corrupt the people they are dealing with.
If given all the necessary support needed to function efficiently, do you have the capacity to carry out your operations as required?
Capacity is relative. For instance do we have capacity to prosecute? Yes we do. We have lawyers in the agency and now the law has given us the power to prosecute and as I am speaking to you now, we are conducting refresher courses for all the lawyers of SON because we are dealing mainly with civil matters, but now we are to prosecute that is a criminal jurisdiction. Critically, the law says SON should operate at the sea ports to stop these products from coming in, but the government says no to that. The law has given all the power, all the bites, but where is SON?
Do you have the capacity to check all the containers at the port?
It is absolutely unnecessary. The important thing is that in the knowledge that you have the power to do it. America has the entire arsenal, but they hardly go to war but nobody dares come up against them, because they know that if they do, America has the capacity annihilate the country from the surface of the earth. So these importers if they know that when they arrive in Nigeria, SON could stop them for checking, they will not come. But they know for certain that SON will not check them.
They have a 90 per cent chance of getting away with it because the system is rigged against SON, but if they knew that there is a 90 per cent chance that SON will find them, it is only the very courageous ones that will take the 10 per cent chance. So that is the situation we have.
There is something we call risk profiling and once the entire sector is subjected to legal regime of quality verification, we have international companies that are operating out of every major cities in the world that are contacted to SON, but not limited to Nigeria but most African countries are doing that now. From every country where major importation is done, they are supposed to go there and subject your products for quality verification and if the products meet the Nigerian standards, then you get a certificate which is transmitted to the country so that when the ship arrives, the people already have the certificate.
What are you doing with petroleum industry, because the indigenous companies are complaining?
Our work with the petroleum industry borders on the lubricants and that is entirely 100 per cent our business. The lubricants are subject to our verification and I can tell you, only one or two months ago, we confiscated some imported lubricants comprising of five containers and all of them were substandard. They were recycled oil and we subjected it to tests where they all failed and we sent it back from where it came from. Investigations have it that it came from Turkey. We could not get it at the port, it was when they were driving out of the port that we got them and if by chance these lubricants get into the market and you buy it, your car knocks on the road, who are you going to call, SON or DPR. This is what we are doing with the petroleum industry and by the way, we were responsible and worked actively on the local content bill that is now enabling the same local petroleum industry to take benefit of the Nigerian petroleum industry. However, when it comes to being checked they do not want SON, but when it gets to being empowered they want SON.
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