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Stakeholders reject proposed e-Customs modernisation

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By Eguono Odjegba

SOME stakeholders in the port industry have described the proposed electronic Customs Modernisation Project, CMP, as costly duplication of the function of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to discard the proposal.

President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Lucky Amiwero, described the project as an unnecessary duplication and wastage of tax payers money.

He told Vanguard Marritime Report: “Any payment made in respect of the new contract is an illegal payment and misapplication of scarce national resources. We already have e-Customs on ground. It is wrong to be making payments on such project when the old functioning one is the one doing the job.

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“It is wrong to start talking of giving the same job to four private companies. What new thing are they coming to do? I am talking as an expert. I was in the Presidential Committee in 2010 and I served as a subcommittee chairman too.

”The Webb Fontain platform has been good all through. When the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR, system failed, former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala reverted to that platform, and it has been good for the service with regard to efficient revenue collection and trade facilitation.”

He also expressed reservation about the competence of the listed project contractors, adding: “The four companies are not experts in trade facilitation. They don’t have any background qualifying them for such job, even if it becomes necessary, but in this case, it is not. All we need to do as a country is to audit and maybe upgrade at a lesser cost.”

Also speaking, Chairman of Skelas Group, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said: “I don’t want to rule out the fact that modernisation can be useful, but if the experience from PAAR is going to be repeated, if the reason people are saying they should privatise Customs collection of duty, is because it is nobody’s job, then that is political, that is finding food for the boys.

”But so far, what they want to do is still shrouded in secrecy, we have only heard rumour about what they want to modernise, why the secrecy and failure to carry stakeholders along during the conception?”

Corroborating, National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Iju Tony Nwabunike, said: “We have heard that the project was not known to the presidency, that some interested foreigners and some Nigerian fronts packaged the project in secret. The secret surrounding the project is a signal that something is not right.

“Now that Abba Kyari is dead who I understand was the arrow head, nothing stops President Buhari from studying the said proposal among the many other projects that sources said were found in the late Abba Kyari’s office and are being looked into, and making a statement afterwards.”

Also commenting, a retired Comptroller of Customs who does not want his name mentioned, argued that the whole project idea is to allow some people siphon public fund.

He said: “This has been an issue from the days when we were in Customs. They want to take the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, CISS, collected from Free On Board, FOB. Ironically, it is foreigners that were collecting this money all through the pre-shipment inspection time.

“When we came back to Destination Inspection, it was reverted and that is what they have been struggling to collect back. As far as I am concerned, Customs has been properly modernised, the Secretary-General of World Customs Organisation attested to that during his visit to Nigeria recently.

“E-Customs has always been there at least starting from 2000 and has passed very rigorous scale. Customs has done tremendously well in that area. So, for anybody to say they want to put in $300 million to modernise Customs is a fraud and anybody supporting it is an enemy of Nigeria.”

It will be recalled that some lawmakers last year, also challenged the controversial deal on the floor of the House of Representatives. In a letter titled: “Suspension of proposed concession arrangement for the Customs modernisation  project”,  jointly signed by Chairman House Committee on Finance, James Faleke; Chairman Public Petition, Jerry Alagbaoso, and Chairman Customs, Yuguda Hassan Kila, the lawmakers described the proposed concession as “curious.”

Consequent on the legislative order raised, the lawmakers passed a resolution directing the ministers affected by the controversial presidential order to stay action on its implementation.

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