Against the backdrop of a recent protest embarked upon by clearing agents operating at the Apapa port over Customs Intelligent Unit (CIU) operatives involvement in cargo clearance at the nation’s seaports, Deputy Comptroller General of Customs in charge of Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation Tahir Musa in this chat with Shulammite ‘Foyeku speaks on the role of the CIU operatives and why it is imperative they participate in physical examination of cargoes at the port. He also speaks on the marked improvement in the number of Pre – Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR).
Penultimate Thursday, clearing agents operating at Apapa port protested against Customs Intelligent Unit (CIU) officers’ involvement in cargo clearance. What would you say about this directive?
I did the circular on behalf of the Comptroller General. Don’t mind the agents, the CIU officers have the right to perform and witness examination. CIU is our intelligence angle. If they don’t witness, if they don’t pass by where they are doing examination, how will they give us information? The information CIU has been given us has indeed proved very useful.
How would you react to the agents’ agitation that CIU can as well gather intelligence report from their offices without being at the ports to witness and participate in examination of containers
How is that possible, are they magicians? Off course, documentarily, they can gather information but they can also gather information by being around at the examination bay. The CIU are doing part of the job. You see in this business, when somebody is doing very well, people criticized them and that is exactly, the situation, we are facing. We have given directive that CIU are not supposed to be residents in the terminals but they can come around and witness examination. They are not the ones to conduct examination, but they will be there when these things are happening so that when they see discrepancies they can alert the Area controller or the Comptroller General as the case may be.
Does it mean, there are officers who can compromise their positions or integrity?
Yes, that is why they are there. We have check and balance in the system. You can’t just leave the officers in charge (OC) in the field to do what they want. That is why we have Federal Operations Unit too, everybody has his own role. It is the same with every agency; they have both the Intelligence and Enforcement unit. But we have said that the Enforcement unit and the releasing officers should not have business there, that they should not give clearance to anybody.
What is your take on the agents claim that the directive which states that the CIU can ‘witness’ and ’participate’ in physical examination of cargoes is too ambiguous?
The directive is very clear. They go to the port, do their work and go back to their office at 29, warehouse road. But they should not be resident in the port. Before the circular, they were residents in the ports, they have offices but when the Comptroller General visited the port, he said no, that is not the proper thing to do, therefore CIU should leave the port, but they can come to the port on assignment. When they go there, they don’t need to talk to any agents, but they will be right there with their identity cards and witness what is happening so that they give us information. Without that we can’t move forward.
There have been several complaints from agents as regards the issuance of PAAR. What is the Service doing to address this challenge and how many PAAR documents do customs process on a daily basis?
On a daily basis, we produce about 1,200 PAAR and slightly above and out of that, we transmit between 90 to 95 percent of it. People are complaining quite alright but in every new thing, there is likely to be a little hiccups but the fact that we are passing documents and declarations are being made, one is sure that the PAAR is getting out there. Let them still exercise a little patient with us, we will definitely get there. Yes we are rolling out the PAAR, but the truth is this, some importers and agents out there are thinking that we will go back to the days of the provisional release, but we can’t go back because PAAR is being rolled out on a daily basis. Let me also seize this opportunity to call on some of these agents and importers that when they are filling their document, they should exercise due diligence, they should do it properly without leaving out anything and as long as these things are transmitted, we will do our own part and send it out. Like the CG observed, now that we have the jobs in our hands the most important thing is how to sustain it. With every transition, there will be challenges and this is no exception. We have observed a few hitches and that is why the CG has directed like he promised that from time to time officers will be coming from the headquarters to address these problems. This issue arises from the backlog of the work of the service providers and not from PAAR. Now that we have taken over, the most important thing now is how to sustain it and the sustenance of this huge battle that has been won lies in both officers and stakeholders’ hands. Our assignment here is a general overview of what is happening in the field, we are here to make sure that things are done very well and to ensure that if there are people having issues with their PAAR, we guide and direct them appropriately. We direct the officers who are on help desk to do the proper thing. And if necessary, we send officers to Abuja to make sure that everything is done properly and since then we have been seeing result.