Ships now stay at the port for over 50 days because of corruption and abuse of discretionary powers by government agencies in the cargo clearing process, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
nhealthy competition among government agencies in the inspection of cargoes at the port has created heavy burden for importers in the process of taking delivery of their consignments.
Stakeholders alleged that officials of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government agencies had too much discretionary powers, which they flagrantly abuse to delay cargoes to frustrate importers and agents in order to force them to negotiate underhand payment.
It was gathered that the exploitation in the cargo clearing process had degenerated to the point of crisis at the port because of the absence of a national single window platform to boost efficiency at the ports.
For instance, a former National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’s Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) had become an advisory document, giving room to the use of discretionary power by officers, and consequently encouraging corruption.
He noted that PAAR was supposed to be a final document, which customs issues, to certify value and classification so that as soon as importers pay their money, customs would inspect the container and allow the owners to carry their cargo.
He lamented that all the best practices at the port had been jettisoned by the urge to either make money for government, organisation or for individuals, saying that the downward trend could make the industry collapse.
He called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency in the industry over lack of automation of cargo clearing processes.
He explained that absence of a national single window platform at the nation’s seaports had made the clearing of cargo a challenge for agents and affected the efficiency at the ports.
Shittu stressed that unhealthy competition among government agencies at the port had been the greatest obstacle to the realisation of the single window project.
According to him, every government official, whether Customs or any agency, has the discretionary power to delay cargo and frustrate importers so they could negotiate, saying that it’s unlike Ghana, where everything was down online without personal contact with customs and other government agencies.
Shittu noted: “Once you do your online documentation in your office accredited with your system, you go to the delivery point to go and find out whether the customs examination done meets with your declaration, once it meets, you carry your cargo.”
“There is competition among regulatory agencies, especially those with overlapping functions. We have been hearing about promises of us having a single window.
Customs has established its own single window, NPA wants to have its own single window and at the end of the day, Nigerian Shippers’ Council too would want to have its own.
“How many single windows do we need to operate and get things right. If small maritime nations like Ivory Coast and Benin Republic can manage their affairs with one single window, what is wrong with us? Except probably the establishment of a single window will be an avenue for people to enrich themselves, otherwise I don’t see any reason why all of us cannot work together and have a single window.”
Also, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, complained that physical interaction with port officials was responsible for corruption and inefficiency.
He noted: “If you don’t physically interact with officials and do your transactions electronically, it would reduce corruption in the system. It would be much cheaper, more efficient and Nigerian port would become more competitive, if shippers do more of online transactions.”
Bello stressed that lack of space at the port was very dangerous because it signals congestion both at the seaside and at the terminal.
Also, he added that there were lots of cargoes, which were abandoned and ought to be auctioned.
Bello said: “We would suggest to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to do on-the-spot auctioning without taking those goods out of the port. Most of them are expired goods and we have to help the terminal operators to clear the ports so that ships could come in on a better timing rather than 50 days waiting time that shows inefficiency, and is uneconomical.”
Worried by this development, the executive secretary said that NSC was perfecting plans to ensure that cargo clearing processes and all other port transactions were carried out online by first quarter of 2021.
Bello, who noted that the country’s seaports were presently operating at 65 per cent digital, stressed the need for every operator to come onboard because the outbreak of COVID-19 had shown that it was very dangerous for people to gather at the terminals.
Bello said that with an efficient port, importers could stay in the comfort of their offices to exit their cargoes without physically present at the port.
The council boss explained that most of the terminals and shipping companies were already doing 85 per cent of their transactions online.
Bello noted that the council was meeting with shipping companies, terminal operators and the banks to harmonise and integrate the cargo clearing processes.
According to him, the scanning of containers is more efficient and less dangerous than 100 per cent physical examination of cargo, saying that with the outbreak of coronavirus, digital port would lessen the exposure of the port to the spread of the virus.
There is need for government to adopt a single window for cargo clearing in the nation’s port in order to make the port efficient.