…query non functionality of 22 old ones procured at $120m

By  Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja

House of Representatives has said it was not favourably disposed to the bid by the Federal Government to purchase new scanners for the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS when the 22 old ones procured at the cost $120 million were lying fallow.
The House said it would rather prefer that the old ones be repaired and put to use instead spending another taxpayers money.

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Members of the House Committee on Customs and Excise expressed the position at a public hearing, Monday, on the lack of transparency on the transfer of technical know-how from Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited, Societe Generale De Surveillance, to Nigeria Customs Service and Global Scan Systems which led to the collapse of multimillion dollar scanners at Nigeria’s Ports and Border Stations.
Minister of Finance Mrs Zainab Ahmed who was represented by the Director, Home Finance of the Ministry of Finance, Stephen Okon had told the lawmakers that arrangement was being made by the government to procure three scanners for the Customs as a stop gap measure.
 He explained that lack of spare parts was responsible for the repairs of the 22 scanners bought for the Nigeria Customs Service in 2006.
According to him, the unavailability of the spare parts was also responsible for the the abandonment of the scanners.
It will be recalled that the 22 scanners were procured by the federal government at the cost of 120 million dollars in 2006 and handed over to Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited, Societe Generale De Surveillance and Global Scan Systems on a build, operate and transfer basis with 7 years contract.
The scanners were however handed over to the Nigeria Customs Service on December 1, 2013.
Speaking, Okon said “at the expiration of the contract in December 2012, they were further extended for a period of six months which ended in June 2013.
Subsequently, the federal government entered into transition agreement commencing from 1st July to 30th November, 2013.”
The Director noted that the then Minister of Finance constituted a transition implementation committee with the mandate to collaborate with the manufacturers of the scanners to conduct an acceptance procedure test on the scanners to make them operational before handing them over to the Customs.
He added that all faults detected were handed over to the service providers to rectify at the end of the exercise.
He however lamented that Global Scan systems failed to fulfil its obligation to fix the faults.
Okon also said despite that, the Customs Service signed a memorandum of understanding with Global Scan system for the provision, operation and management of the scanners, information technology and telecommunication hardware and software training and equipment.
But in response, the representative of Smith Detection, manufacturer of the Scanners, Manoj Jagtiani said spare parts for the scanners were available.
He said that majority of the scanners located in various parts of the country can be repaired and made functional
.
Okon who represented the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning explained that
Asserting his knowledge of the project from the start, Jagtiani said smith detection scanners underscored the quality and durability of the scanners.
According to him,  the scanners in the National Assembly and the Presidential villa were manufactured by them and have been maintaining them for over 20 years, adding that it would be out of place to say the scanners have no spare parts
.
He said his company held series of meetings with government officials and officials of the Nigeria Customs Service and submitted quotations for the repairs and rehabilitation of the existing scanners.
He said that about 13 of the existing scanners can still be repaired and upgraded for the use of the Nigeria Customs Service
.
He however said that the spare parts can only be purchased from the manufacturers.
St this juncture, the members of the Committee alleged a sabotage, wondering why the government would thinking of buying new ones when the old one could be fixed.
They also expressed surprise that Global Scan System Limited that failed to honour its commitment to the government when they were supposed to hand over the scanners to the government were again contracted to work with the Customs in the management of the scanners only for the entire system to collapse one year after.
 “I am forced to believe that there is some element of sabotage somewhere because it does not make sense to abandon 22 scanners and made no effort to repair any of them and you are going to buy three or four. Why can’t we explore the option of repair and modernisng the existing ones?”, a member of the Committee, Hon. Oluwatimehin Adelegbe queried, wondering why there was an MOU.
Speaking, the representive of Comptroller General of Customs, ACG A. Saidu intoned that the scanners were handed over to the Customs Service without the consumables.
He said that Global Scan System was responsible for the consumables but regretting that the company while operating the system failed to fulfill its own side of the bargain.
He disclosed that the company recently wrote the Service, demanding payment for services not rendered, threatening to drag them to court.
Saidu said “we are still waiting for the summon”.
Declaring the hearing open earlier, the  Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila regretted that the scanners were not functioning after spending $120 million.
Represented by the Chairman of the House Committee on House Services, Rep Wale Raji, Gbajabiamila charged the Committee to do a thorough investigation.
He said: “In 2006, Nigeria acquired cargo Scanners worth more than US$120million, and retained the service providers on build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) terms. The contract also provided that the service providers will provide training and technical support services to the Nigeria Customs Service on risk management, valuation and classification.
“By the end of 2013, the transition process from COTECNA, SGS Scanning Nigeria Limited, and Global Scan Systems Nigeria Limited, the former service providers, was completed and the Scanners handed over to the Nigeria Customs service.
“However, within a year of the handover, the scanners had stopped functioning and Nigerian Ports and Borders were once again returned to the analogue process of physical examination.
“The scanners, which were installed at various Customs Operation locations such as Tin-Can Island Port, Apapa, Port Harcourt Area One Command, Onne Port, Aminu Kano International Airport, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Seme and Idi-Iroko borders, Port Harcourt and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, among others, are still currently non-functioning”.
On his part, the chairman of the House Committee on Customs and Excise,  Leke Abejide said that lack of scanners at the ports may have contributed to the proliferation of small arms and ammunitions in the country.
“It is very easy and possible to go undetected because scanners that should detect these arms and ammunitions are non-functional and left to decay. If we really want to secure our country the Scanners must be allowed to function.
“It is my firm belief that this has nothing to do with our inability to purchase scanners, but everything to do with poor maintenance culture, lack of accountability, and deliberate economic sabotage.
“Therefore, the idea of purchase of new Scanners or the revamp of existing but moribund Scanners, without an attempt on the part of the Federal Government to get to the root of failure of the past Scanners regime, will not be the case at this critical time. The status quo, I must say, is a national embarrassment and corporate crime against our national interest.

It is established that Scanners have the capacity of processing more than 300 containers in a single day. This brings about less fatigue, more turnover, and port competitiveness. It will also cut costs on the part of the importers who are forced to bear the costs of demurrage that was not their fault in the first place.
“But with physical examination it takes an average of 2 weeks or 2 months to clear cargo at the Ports, thus making a mockery of the 48-hour cargo clearance Directive of the Federal Government by the Executive Order of Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria.
“Not only does cargo scanning quicken the cargo clearing process, it is also more efficient than physical inspection because of its ability to detect arms and ammunitions and other illegal goods which may escape physical detection. It would also reduce bribery and bring sanity to the system.
“That way a country protects its sovereignty from the influx of illegal arms and ammunitions and substandard and contraband goods. Although Nigeria accounts for the largest Ports and Border Stations in West Africa, its competitive edge has been lost to nearby Ports in West Africa primarily due to delays caused by absence or non-availability of Scanners, leading to high cost of clearance, monumental and avoidable Revenue loss to the country.
“Another major problem that the availability of Scanners at the Ports will solve is issue of congestion at the Ports and gridlock on the access roads to these Ports. The turnaround time will improve and the business community and the entire country will be better for it”, he said.

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