Customs Comptroller General Col. Hameed Ali (Retd.), has identified fraudulent practices by importers and clearing agents as factors militating against quick cargo clearance and assured stakeholders that the Service would ensure that scanners are provided at sea ports, air ports and border stations between now and early next year to boost the trade facilitation programme of the Federal Government.
Col. Ali who disclosed this yesterday in Abuja, assured stakeholders that the Buhari administration has the political will to introduce a single window platform to reduce costs, increase compliance of importers and exporters and boost security.
Ali said Customs has always believed that our port system is plagued with a myriad of problems, but the service is ready to stand stronger together with other patriotic stakeholders, with a collective will to confront the knotty issues and proffer solutions.
“Over the years, our port system have been adjudged poor performers by major Rating Agencies in terms of its competitiveness, charges paid for its service, and efficiency.
“In terms of its strategic importance to the realisation of the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP), the Federal Government of Nigeria last year, issued the Ease of Doing Business Executive Order E01, with far reaching measures to improve business environment for Port operations. The Order imposes collective obligations on all stakeholders to work together to reduce observed bottlenecks in our operations, achieve faster processing of cargo clearance, streamlining of procedures and fighting corrupt practices in our ports.
“But in working to eliminate the bottlenecks, we should not throw our ports open to fraudulent operators, terrorists and criminals. We should realize that there’s a big different between trade facilitation and fraud facilitation. Majority of people accusing Customs of delaying cargo clearance at the ports are mainly those struggling to stampede and blackmail the service into allowing them free reign to continue with their sharp practices.
“In the course of last one year, criminal elements attempted to exploit the weakness in the port systems to compromise our national security through the importation of arms and ammunition through Apapa and Tin-can Island Ports.
“We therefore need to work together to present a united front against those characters waiting in the wings to compromise our system. We must leverage on opportunities presented by new technologies to fast track compliant traders and punish the offenders. We have to strengthen our capacity to investigate offenses against our laws and impose heavy sanctions that has deterrence factors on deviants.
“We must all resolve that the selfish interests of few economic saboteurs should not be allowed to subjugate our collective will to bring sanity to our port system.
“One way to improve our performance is actually to carry out an assessment of our operation, identify areas where we have made progress,and those where we still have some bottlenecks and delays. Following the methodology of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the Nigeria Customs Service last month, in collaboration with our Stakeholders launched a Time Release Study project as a tool for trade facilitation.
“The study is expected to scientifically measure the time taken for clearance of goods between the time of arrival and exit from the port. Using Apapa port as a pilot, the study will undertake an assessment of the clearance business process, collect survey data, analyze and publish the results. It is hoped that the study will chart a roadmap for collective implementation of measures to achieve faster clearance. I am happy to announce that the Working Group, comprising representatives of all stakeholders here was inaugurated yesterday, and is currently undergoing a training workshop in Lagos, under the guidance of the WCO,”the CGC said.