…say agency frustrating ease of doing business
mporters and their agents in Lagos have accused the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) of collecting an illegal fee of N200, 000 per container from them, saying no receipt is normally issued for the money.
They also accused the regulator of frustrating the Ease of Doing Business policy of the Federal Government at the Nigerian seaports.
The importers, who spoke at the weekend, in Lagos, disclosed that aside the alleged the collapse of SON’s portal, which caused importers untold hardship, the agency collects N200,000 on every container imported into the country, whether it is a SON related product or not.
The importers, who pleaded anonymity, alleged that the practice has been on for a long time, saying if any importer refuses to pay, SON’s Enforcement Unit will waylay the affected containers on the road and insist on un-stuffing and examining them by the roadside or take them to their warehouse for that purpose, a development that would lead to delays which comes at a huge cost to the importers.
Some of the importers said to avoid such delays and accumulation of demurrage fees, the importer pays the illegal charge.
Reacting to the allegation however, the Head Public Relations, SON, Bola Fashina, said that the allegation is unfounded, adding that SON does not collect any money in cash from anybody.
He said: “Nobody has been authorized by the management of SON to collect such money from importers. Anybody making such claims should be ready to prove it and produce the person who they paid the money to. All SON fees are paid to TSA and is not collected in cash.”
He said that the people making the allegations might be those importers who failed to go through the SON Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) abroad, where they imported their goods and the agency insists on taking such affected containers to their warehouse for examination.
According to him, such people desperately looking for a way out resort to leveling false allegations on the regulator.
Meanwhile, SON had debunked the report of collapse of its online application portal for the operation of the offshore Conformity Assessment Program (SONCAP) for processing of regulated imports into the country.
A statement from the office of the Director General, Osita Aboloma, stressed that rather, it was importers who failed to comply with the pre-shipment process that are crying wolf on accumulation of demmurage on their consignments. According to the statement signed by the Head, Public Relations, SON, Bola Fashina, the portal was recently upgraded to ensure optimal performance, enhance a seamless operation and more efficient service delivery to customers and stakeholders alike.
Fashina, disclosed that some of the advantages the upgraded SONCAP portal offers are that it is a one-stop-shop that provides clients opportunity to apply, track application, send messages to SON and receive responses as well upload evidence of payments seamlessly. Furthermore, it provides the profile of the work done and documents used for application are available on clients’ dashboard, adding that there are no more Tax Identification Number (TIN) error, no more mistakes in company name, among others.
Fashina alluded to a recent challenge in transmitting approved and activated SONCAP certificates to the National trade portal which, according to him, was not peculiar to SON but all other trade related agencies from January 22, 2020.
He stated that the issue has since been rectified on the national trade portal and all pending SONCAP certificates transmitted to the Nigerian Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) portal as at February 1, 2020.
But some maritime operators, in their reaction to the statement, said SON was merely trying to cover-up its shortcomings and incompetence.
They insisted that the SON portal had collapsed since November, 2019, saying it was just fixed in February, 2020.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that the agency upgraded its portal without consulting the Nigeria Customs Service which in turn created technical hitches for freight agents to access its portal.
Speaking on the development, Prince Bakare Adeyinka, President General of the Nigeria Association of Air Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), lamented that the system collapse led to demurrage at the ports.
Adeyinka maintained that the ugly development affected the businesses of both importers and exporters in the international trade chain.
According to him, billions of naira was lost to the system collapse. He expressed fear that the demurrage accrued from the breakdown will lead to increase in the price of goods in the market as importers will pass the extra costs to the final consumers.
Similarly, another freight agent who simply identified himself as Mr. Ibrahim Samuel confirmed that the issuance of SONCAP was a major problem in January, but added that “in the last few days, it appears the system has been stable but for over a month running it was difficult to access the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) because of the problem of SONCAP.
“All through January this year, we found it difficult to process PAAR because of the SONCAP application portal which made things difficult for us but the situation is back to normalcy at the moment.