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‘Nigerians do not want to pay taxes’—PTML Customs boss

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Recently, freight forwarders at the PTML Customs Command protested the alleged increment of charges at the Command . The quick intervention of the Command’s Area Comptroller Mr Austen Warikoru who spoke to GODWIN ORITSE on how he was able to quell the crisis also said that he has observed that Nigerian do not like paying taxes.
Below are excerpts

You have been in this Command for almost a hundred days, how well has ths destination inspection fared?

I think this  is one place that destination inspection is working perfectly well, we have our 48 hours cargo clearance time with out any disturbance ,  what so ever because the PTML is a multi- functional    functional terminal. They have necessary facilities to carryout  that which they were set up to do and we complement that effort because we have here in PTML a combination of the agencies. W e also have a seamless transfer of document from Customs to PTML, that way our release note get to them real time on time and when it does, they can go ahead to complete their processing and before you know it the containers at the gate and they are ready to go..
Up till now there is no form of delay in the process of good clearance in this terminal.

Mr Austen Warikoru
Mr Austen Warikoru

I am sure that you are aware that we have commenced the electronic method of payment in PTML ,although we are still fine tuning the process until we get to the desired level, but right now customs agents now get their payment done electronically.

Every body has been briefed on what to do, by the time you come in here next week if you do, you see that we are operating smoothly.
Do not forget that agents are already operating E-payment in other ports in Lagos, so for them, there is nothing new that is being introduced So for us in PTML we have a perfect situation here.

Do you think the newly introduced electronic system of payment reducing if not totally eliminating fraud from the system, because before there has been cases whereby agents and bank officials produce bank receipts as evidence of payment only for one to find that no payment was made after all?

Well I  say would yes, because it would assist in beating fraud because I must tell you the truth fraud is part of living.
You find out that even the Western world in spite of their advance nature they still have fraud, what any organization can do is to find a way to eliminate and if you cannot eliminate fully you reduce it.

You aware of the fraud in the banking industry today through the Automated Teller  Machine (ATM), it is a dynamic system, and every achievement you make should be the starting point of your next level of movement because as you get to a level somebody is sitting down some where analyzing every move you make, studying the in and out of everything you have done and would see how to beat it. Before you know what is going on you find that your newly secured system has been beaten by criminals.

So that is exactly what we are doing, e- payment is here today,  we in this command we are already starting to work to see the likely places we may have problem and see what we are going to do and I am not going to tell you what we are going to do because it is too early to do that. The truth of the matter is that we believe that with e-payment the issues you are talking about will be eliminated
Look at it this way, why would bank ‘A’ send me a document and receipt that they have collected ‘X’ amount of money from importer ‘A’. If by the time reconciliation is being done, you now realize that the ‘X’ amount of money is not there, it is between that bank and the regulator which is the Central Bank of Nigeria. It is not longer Customs problem

How has the activities of the scanning service providers helped your operations here?

I suppose you mean global scan, global scan is the service provider meant for this terminal and to the best of my knowledge, they are doing what they should do. Although they complain that they do not have enough volumes compared to the volumes they observed in and around the premises here.

For us we do not have any problem with that. When we see any document meant for cargo with the right attachment of DIR, form ‘M’ and all other necessary documents with it. So we believe they are doing their work, and we are doing ours.

Why would the service provider be complaining, they see so much containers and yet the are not getting a feel of these containers because most of these RAR do not pass through them?

The issue for me is very straight forward, there is need for enlightenment. Enlightenment of importers and their agents using this facility.

These importers are aware when they get to their bank at the form stage that Tin-Can Islandport  for purposes of customs duty is different from PTML and the importer is also  aware of their  code and they are able to tell the bank in the form that my cargo  is going to PTML and our is 01TG. So if you tell your bank 01TG automatically your bank knows that their documentation would go from their bank to global scan.  But if you tell them Tin-Can Island port, they will send their documentation to Cotecna because Cotecna covers Tin-Can Island So there is need for that kind of enlightenment to take place. So very soon we are going to have a stakeholders’ forum that would involve the banks, the service providers, importers, the clearing agents, the operators, Customs and all other agencies of the government herein this port.

We will sit down and look at grey areas, we find out what the problems are and find solutions to these problems and we are going to have this meeting on a quarterly basis and when this is done regularly we will be able to solve our problems.

How prepared are your officers with this newly introduced electronic payment system because one of the major problem your predecessors had was the fact that most of the officers here were not adequately trained for the challenges of a Command?

I think my officers are prepared, they are prepared in the sense that before the commencement of the E-payment they got adequate information, at least one month notice before the scheme started, and I had also informed them of this. You see  preparation to a large extent has to do with customs procedure. Once you are aware of customs procedures, you do not have a problem.

E-payment is just a change in payment technique .Before E-payment under the same ASYCUDA system, we have  importers who know fully well that their consignments are coming to this port would prepare their declaration knowing that they have form ‘M’ , they have  their invoices, they their RAR.
Based on this they prepare their declaration, they go the  bank and pay their duty , come with receipts to customs.
But now the procedure is very simple. We just do data capture for you , so that you do not come and complain that it was the Custom officer that computed wrong figures.

You do your declaration, you data capture and you bring a signed copy to Customs, based on this, what Customs will do is to run what you have done through our system, if you are to go fir physical examination, the system will indicate and after this,  an assessment will be generated. It is based on that assessment that you now go to bank and pay. This process eliminates the ytime you  wasted in going to the bank twice. If you come and you do not need to do examination at the terminal, right there and then the front desk officers will release your cargo for you .
So we want a situation where going to the bank will be reduce to once and that is exactly what the difference is So to the custom officer it is just a change in name and a slight change in role

Do these scanning service providers have a right to change what ever assessment customs has done?

I will not go into that, but my answer to that would come in two ways, the service providers are employed to give the services they are giving to Nigerians to day.
You remember that before now these service providers were inspection agents resident abroad .
Before your cargoes come to Nigeria they are inspected by these agents
They must have gained experience during Pre-shipment era and they must have a database which they are using at home for us in Nigeria.

I  also told you thatthe RAR which is the document they generate and passed on to us for use in treating cargo, is advisory.
Advisory in the sense that it helps us to say this is cargo ‘X’ coming from country ‘B’ , shipper ‘C’ with the consignee ‘D’. They gave all the necessary details, how much they believe is the value . They do not go into duty at all but in the process of doing their job, they also do some form of classification. Up to that point whatever is generated is just to advise customs .

The onus lies with customs to say this is right or wrong that is why we are able to generate demand notices after these documents have been given to us.

You have been in the saddle for about a hundred days can you tell us your experience and how do hope to enhance revenue generation?

Hundred days in office, you make it sound   political thing. Well for me  I was not going to count hundred days. However I know one thing for sure, when I came in here on the 15th of March 2009 I decided to be publicity shy , I decided to stay out of media because I  told myself I needed to carry out an internal study, I needed to know my product if you are talking marketing. If you do not know your product, you cannot market to anybody. You must know what you are trying to sell so that if there is any objection from your prospective clients you will be able to know what to do and be able to attend to these objections.

So I chose to stay away to get more acquainted, it is not as if I am new in the system, but for first I am given the mantle of leadership. Like you know, before now I was in the background I have always been at the background where you just contribute your own quoter and wait for jobs to come out credit in this case is not your business. So for the first time I have this mantle of leadership and I felt to be able to do it right and well I need to know my product, I need to know my officers , I need to know what they do, how they do it. I needed to know more about the Command in terms of our area of coverage, I needed to interact with the agents and I also heard of the complaints of people about this command where somebody will tell you that there is short fall in revenue  collection all the time, that there were ‘Machine Outside’ issues and stuffs like that .

So I felt if I came in March and by end of March I start talking to you, what will I be telling you, I will have absolutely nothing to tell you So I chose to know my environment first
Good a thing, if you look at my chart there, I met revenue at about N1.9billion.  At the end of March we were able to move it to N2.2billion, in  April, we were able to move to N2.26billion and by May we had hit N2.5billion and that is pointing to something and I started applying some measures to ensure that I stay afloat. So I knew the problems of the command.

What are the major challenges that you have had to grapple with since you assume duty in this command?
Nigerians do not want to pay taxes and charges to government. I have had to talk to people and they ask why should they  pay tax , they give various  as to why they should not pay tax. You see that is not my responsibility, my job is to come here and ensure that all dues are collected, but in trying to do that you need to counsel some people. The case of Lagos is classical example of what  our taxes are doing because part of what you pay here goes to Lagos, the VAT money still comes back Lagos.

We try to counsel them to makethem  know that there is no negotiation for duty payment.
One issue I had before now was that some deliberately paid less than they should and I made sure that will  not tolerate that while I am here

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