Willy Egbudin is the Customs Area Comptroller (CAC) for Apapa, Nigeria’s number one strategic port. He was moved to the command from Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection unit at the Customs headquarters. He has also served as CAC at Lilypond and Seme Commands.
In this interview with FOSTER OBI, Egbudin gave the strategy the command used to achieve the August revenue of N35 billion, which was the highest by any command in 10 years. He told SHIPS &PORTS DAILY how Customs can meet its target even in recession; reforms in the Service, corrupt officers, among others.
Quotes It is one thing to have the cargo, it is another thing to receive the due revenue; so what we did was to put measures on ground to ensure that areas of revenue leakages are plugged and we have been able to do this overtime which is why you are seeing the results now
We know during recession that a lot of cargos are not coming in but i am telling you that if proper measures are put on ground, you can still achieve the target
Your August revenue performance was quite profound. How did you do it?
Let me tell you quite frankly that it is not a mean feat to get such revenue from this command especially at a time like this. It means that so many things must have been put in place. First and foremost we thank God for his mercies because if God is not with us, it wouldn’t have been possible to get such revenue.
We thank God too because the cargo just came in at that time. But one thing is sure; it is one thing to have the cargo, it is another thing to receive the due revenue;so what we did was to put measures on ground to ensure that areas of revenue leakages are plugged and we have been able to do this overtime which is why you are seeing the results now. We were able to maximise the entry of these cargoes and ensured that all revenues for the government were appropriately collected.
What are these loopholes that you plugged?
When we talk of loopholes, we ensure that the classification and valuation of goods are appropriately done. If you do proper classification, of goods, you may sometimes discover that those that are supposed to pay 20 percent duty, paid five per cent and the right duty was not collected. So you must look at your tariff very well. If you don’t classify such items,you will be losing revenue.
So we have told our officers to make use of their books on tariff so they can actually do proper classification; and also any item they feel the value is low, they should not waste time in referring it to the valuation unit.
They have been doing that and within the period we have been approving a lot of demand notices.
First and foremost we have improved on our supervision of officers, we have also encouraged all the terminal and unit heads to supervise their officers properly; even myself i don’t just sit here, i go out sometimes to see what they are doing in the examination bay. I also supervise the officers to ensure they are doing the proper thing.
We have also encouraged staff to be sharp in valuation and classification of goods. We told them that they should ensure that every consignment that comes to them are properly classified and when necessary refer some with issues to valuation for appropriate value and these things has been yielding a lot of revenue because like i earlier said when somebody misclassifies an item of 20percent duty as five per cent and you are able to detect it and raise Demand Notice you are able to raise revenue for the government.
If you look at our profile in the month of August you will see that a lot of demand notices were issued to the tune of N2billion and this would have been lost. This means we have been doing a lot of work, looking inwardly to ensure that revenue meant for government are not frittered away.
Also we look into the system to ensure that these declarations that have been previously made and have not being paid are paid for. We run after the agents, sometimes we block them to make sure they make payments on those declarations. We are generating revenue from those areas.
Also there are some PAAR that we issued that have not been utilised so we call them as well to come and utilise them.
Again there were some items that were taken away with bank bond by corporate organisations.We also have also written to such organisations to come and redeem their bonds and some of them have being doing that because if they don’t, we write to the bank that guaranteed them, and we ensure that the bank pays up. These have really helped to ensure that enough revenue is collected for the government.
Is it appropriate to say that some commands are not meeting up because the officers do not have proper understanding of classification and valuation?
Idon’t want to say that because in each command they have their own checks and balances to ensure that proper classification and valuation is done. In all the commands you have the valuation unit as we have in Apapa; from time to time it is a matter of talking to your officers, you have meetings here and there, management meeting of the command where issues concerning classification are discussed; so we encourage them to look into their books to constantly refresh themselves.
So in spite of the recession customs can actually meet its revenue target?
We know with recession that a lot of cargos are not coming in but i am telling you if proper measures are put on ground, you can still achieve the target. With what we recorded this month, if it were to be the period when there was import boom, when the throughput was high, we would have been hitting over N40 billion. So what iam saying here is, we thank God that the cargo is coming in, and also thank God that we have been able to put some measures on ground to ensure that these cargoes that are coming in pay appropriate duties.
Recently you impounded 16 out of 26 containers from an importer enjoying fast track facility. The importer falsely declared thecontents of the consignment and made away with 10 of those containers; what is the true position because you promised to go after the company for appropriate sanctions?
Recently the agent who brought in those containers took 10 out of the port. One good thing is that the agent had been apprehended; he has given useful statement and of course we are on the verge of recovering the revenue that was lost on those 10 containers. The agent has given promissory note that they are going to pay such revenue; DN has been issued and we are waiting for them to comply which it. I am sure they will do that.
But the Customs Comptroller General said it would be outright seizure?
Yes the seizure is for the 16 containers that wereimpounded but they need to account for the 10 they had taken out before.
What about the custom officers involved. Are you going to sanction them?
No officer was involved; nobody was actually involved. What these people did was to deceive everybody that they were taking the consignments to their premises but instead of taking them to their premises (because if you look at it, he actually enjoys the fast track scheme) but instead of doing what is appropriate by taking these cargoes to the premises, he instead took them straight to the market, which is really wrong and if a tell you, the rule governing this fast track scheme recommends that such defaulters should be appropriately punished to the point of delisting and prosecution. What we are doing to this importer and agent is that we are going to first of all delist him and of course prosecute him.
Has it affected other people enjoying the facility in any way?
No it has not. What we have done is that we tightened up areas we think they have been exploiting to defraud the federal government.
Why has it been impossible to achieve 48hours cargo clearance here?
It is possible to achieve 48hour cargo clearance if the importer is transparent in his declaration. For instance, in any forum we have with stakeholders,we tell them that if you declare transparently and honestly, nobody is going to delay your goods and we have also made it plain to them that if any officer decides to delay your good for no just cause, they should report such officer to me; but till date nobody has come to say he’s been delayed which means the problem is the importer.
If you look at the corporate importers, they hardly have problems, and they are the ones the fast tract scheme is designed to assist because the purpose of the fasttrack is that immediately any of those goods come into the port, they will be taken to the importerspremises forexamination.
How do you deal with corrupt officers when you discover them?
If any officer is found to be corrupt,we write a letter to that effect to the CGC who of course has a disciplinary committee in Abuja who will take up such case.
Recently some 35 officers were sacked from the service?
You can see that the CGC has zero tolerance for corruption. He will always deal with any officer found wanting in the discharge of his duty.
How would you describe the state of scanners at Apapa port?
The scanners are in deplorable situation now and the CGC and his management has actually made recommendations to the federal government for the purchase of new scanners and i am sure that it has been approved but will take time to process before it is brought here. But the scanners will assist in facilitating trade.
You have always warned agents and importers on why they must be transparent in their declarations. Has there been any improvement?
As I said earlier we keep talking to them; some of them are actually keying into it, but you know they must not continue to do things the way they do it before. The change mantra of the federal government is supposed to change them and change the way they do things. So most of them are changing and they don’t have any option if they don’t want to run foul of the law.
You were once at Seme command and had running battle with importers. How can we eradicate the menace?
You will agree with me that there is no country in the world where there is no smuggling, so it depends of how each countryhandles its smuggling activities. Like in Nigeria we have been doing our best; you see that the enforcement unit has been doing so well. So many seizures being made but you see the country that we aware that so many people think they could thrive in smuggling. The Nigeria Customs Service is obviously equal to the task, and that is why you see so many seizures being recorded by the enforcement unit especially the Federal Operations Unit and in the border stations many seizures are recorded. Even in the port, when we see that the items you brought in are not in tandem with what is in your document, the CEMA gives us right to make outright seizure and that is what we are doing.
How can we maximise export to boost revenue taking into consideration the provisions contained in the export prohibition list?
The country has of course realised that there is need for us to boost non-oil export, and a lot of people are going into commodity exportation and that is the only way that the nation’seconomy can improve. The Nigeria Customs Service is aware of this and we are encouraging people that are going into exportation, but also tell them that there are some guidelines in export and you must have to understand those guidelines and of course follow them.
If you follow those guidelines, you will not have problems; it’s only those who will not that will have problems because the Service will not allow that.
Do you sensitize them on those guidelines?
We do. We use every available forum to sensitize the entire trading public, to let them know what it takes to go into export. We always teach them what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. We have taught them and most of them are aware of the procedure with the Nigerian export promotion council before they get into the business.
How useful could export be in this period of recession?
Every country that depends on import will surely not go far. When your export exceeds what you import, it means you have a favourable balance of trade.But if your import is more, your balance of trade is negative and it will affect the economy. This is why the federal government is promoting and giving a lot of incentives to exporters so that people can go into exportation and export more commodities out of our shores.
Some stakeholders complain that the government policies have been anti-trade?
The law encourages trade facilitation but you will see that some people are not ready to follow the law. In any country there must be guidelines on how we import and how we export. If we don’t have guidelines that means we are in animal kingdom. The guidelines are to tell us these are the things you must do and all that. So if you follow the guidelines you will not have problems. It is only those people who want to circumvent the law they are trapped.
They are the ones who complain that trade is not being facilitated. You need to do the proper thing and you will understand that the policies are not anti-trade but if you don’t you will be among those that complain. Just like what I told you about importation. All those conglomerates, ask them how long it takes them to clear their goods from Apapa port. It does not take them 48 hours to clear their cargo. We have been achieving that here. For all those other individual importers who had one or two things to hide, they normally have problems about trade facilitation.
Is it possible to have 100percent physical examination at the ports?
As I said earlier, when you look at the cargoes here you also talk about scale of examination. For example if an importer who is bringing in the same commodity has 20 or 30 containers of machinery, and you know they are machinery;once you know that it is what is on the bill of lading, you will know definitely the type of items they are carrying or raw materials and with discretion you know that these raw materials are same.
If he has about50 containers and you look at it and you know where it is coming from, you can randomly select like 10 and examine them, that way you can apply scale of examination.
What about importers without good records?
If he does not have good record, definitely nobody wants to take that risk because if anything happens you will not say you don’t know.
You have always been described as a gentleman by reports. How have you been able to maintain this record?
Everything depends on your makeup. By nature i am gentle;i don’t cross people’s part unless they cross my part.I just try to maintain myself and do what i am supposed to do.
And of course agents and importers want to trample on gentle officers?
When you want to do that that is when you see the other side of me. If you feel that this man is gentile and you want to trample on him, i will tell you that i am made of sterner stuff as well. I think it is highly proper that we respect ourselves.
How would you assess the reform in the customs which has been going on over the years?
Customs have come of age. If you want to look into the past what customs used to be, when we don’t have enough systems; you will know that the organisation has been fully reformed because everything we do now is purely automated.We are now on paperless regime. You don’t see people carrying paper from one place to another. Whatever you want to do, you look into the system, you do your release , your transaction enter what your observation through the system. I think the service has actually been transformed beyond what it used to be.
You may like to look at the border security having experienced what it used to be there?
Proper border security requires synergy among the agencies:Navy, Customs, Police, and Immigration. They need to come together and ensure they coordinate their activities. If there is proper synergy there won’t be any problems when it comes to securing the border.
If you go to the land borders you see that meetings are being held from time to time between all security agencies to ensure that there is no violation of the law and that security is uppermost in the mind of the agencies that are there. Inside the port here we do our own bit to ensure that things are done appropriately to enhance border security.
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