Stakeholders in the maritime industry have again bemoaned incessant alerts that trail cargo clearance in the Nigerian seaports describing the situation as a clog in the wheel of progress in the business of shipping in Nigeria.
The stakeholders made the observation at a stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service at Apapa Lagos to appraise the performance of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) which clocked one year in operation last on December.
The meeting was attended had the Freight Forwarders, terminal operators, government agencies including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and others in attendance.
Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Apapa Chapter, Mr. Olumide Fakanlu who spoke at the event noted that he was happy that PAAR which had enjoyed enormous support from ANLCA had succeeded despite all the opposition that confronted it at inception.
However, Fakanlu stated that irrespective of the achievements recorded so far with PAAR, there was still room for improvement especially in the area of communication between the PAAR ruling centre and the importers and by extension, the stakeholders.
According to him,” it is supposed to be a final document but it has not been now because of issues of compliance here and there but the compliance issue can be enforced by customs too through normal dialogue before the document is issued because it is supposed to be a document that have been available before the arrival of goods and once you have it, you pay and go”.
“Like the CAC (Customs Area Controller) have said about compliance, there are many documentation problems that are being complained about by our members. So, all these things are causing delays and it is not helping matters. We now thought that if customs can enforce this compliance before the issuance of PAAR, it is okay by contacting the importer, see what you have done, we won’t accept this”.
On detention of containers inside the terminals, the ANLCA boss called for the harmonization of the various units of customs that one have to contact before his detained goods were release adding that too many units involved in the exercise causes delay of clearing in the ports.
“Then the other thing issue of detention, the CAC have mentioned now because asking various sections about this detention, writing AP Moller, we will advise that it will be from one office either CIU (Customs Investigation Unit) writing to AP Moller to detain containers or not write TDO (Terminal Delivery Order). You should harmonize this issue, yes, any consignment can have problem which attracts detention, let it be from one source, then we know it is from that source”, he said.
He further want the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) as well as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to stop operating inside the ports rather they should follow consignments to the importers’ premises or warehouses where they could go and meet the importer instead of causing delays in the port.
He said,” let them identify the importers, they give them permit before they start importing because without their permit or their permission customs will not have even processed their PAAR in the first place”.
On her part, a representative of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mrs. Julie Ogboru recalled how the Chamber supported the PAAR but expressed some reservation that the PAAR could not be said to be a final document despite assurances from the Comptroller General of Customs that the PAAR would not be queried.
She said, “ but right there from Abuja where the PAAR is issued, there is a jerking here and there and coming down to the area commands, there is another jerking and this causes a lot of headache to both the agents and importers because it will take more than the number of days needed to bring out the goods”.
Mrs. Ogboru regretted in the event of dispute between the importer and the customs over discrepancy in value, one was no longer allowed to make payment with the bank’s indemnity adding that the reverse was the case in the past even as she called on the CAC to look into the matter with the view to correcting it.
“I think there should be a way forward so that when you have this problem, you can either issue a bank guarantee so that you carry your goods while you are contesting, if you the customs wins, the importer pays and if I win, I collect the goods and collect the release document”, she stated.
She further decried incessant alerts coming from different sections of the service within a command suggesting that the resident officer who conducted the examination, should issue alert if need be while the Valuation Unit would look into it and once the Unit okays it, it should be so.
She described as unacceptable a situation where the Valuation Unit would okay a consignment for release, the resident officer would turn around to oppose it saying, “I don’t know who is right now, Valuation is supposed to give value, so they have the last say”.
Responding, the Customs Area Controller, Apapa Area Command, Comptroller Eporwei Charles Edike assured that one could still use the bank indemnity to clear goods at the port adding that even up till December, 2014, so many persons utilized the instrument of indemnity to clear their goods.
On the issue of alerts, Edike stated that alerts could come from the Customs Headquarters, from the Area Project Manager (APM)’s officer or the Valuation Unit.
He said,” any other alerts from anywhere, if you see them, let us know apart from the headquarters, office of the APM and then the valuation”.
Speaking on the PAAR becoming a final document, he noted that PAAR could be a final document only for transparent and straight forward importers and agents arguing that non compliant trader would always have his PAAR queried because the system cannot be short changed.
He advised the stakeholders to complete their documentation before the arrival of their goods so as to reduce the problems of delay occasioned by unpreparedness of the importers and their agents.
On detention of goods in the port, the Customs boss disclosed that it was the Deputy Controller (DC) Enforcement that would be communicating with the terminals stating that in his absence, the DC Special Duties could issue a detention notice to the terminals over container suspected to have been wrongly declared.
So, the two signatories Daniel you may find are DC Special Duties and then DC Enforcement. But by and large, you may be seeing more of DC Enforcement”, Edike stated.