One trillion Customs’ revenue target under threat
With the suspension of the controversial benchmark value on some certain category of cargoes by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), factional National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, in this interview claims that his petition to the upper chamber of the National Assembly led to the suspension of the policy. Amiwero who described the policy as a misnomer spoke with Ships & Ports’ Obianuju Ozoeze.
Is it true that you recently petitioned the Senate to investigate the Nigeria Customs Service on what is termed the imposition of arbitrary and fictitious values on trade goods?
Yes, I did.
What prompted you to do this?
That has been my style to make sure things are done properly. It is my legal right to fight against injustice when things are not done properly. Apart from being the President of the Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, I am a member of the Presidential Committee on Customs Reform and I was the sub-committee chairman who resolved the issue of value on vehicles when there was crisis at Tin-can. What we resolved was to look at the law and apply it on the treatment of value. You don’t impose value anywhere in the world. What you do is to that you treat value because there are sequential or hierarchical applications to arrive at the assessment of values as obtained in Article 7 of GAT.
You don’t impose value, what you do is to look at the transaction value because we are no more using BDV, the Brussel Definition of Value (BDV), which is a 1947 outdated and primitive way of imposing value. But the customs is using a 1947 principle which is why all the cargo in the country has left. Fifty percent of the cargo in the country are gone because of this imposition of value. So it is a not of question of why did I write to the Senate. In fact, the Senate has looked at the law and said this thing must be investigated because our trading cargo that we are trying to see how to preserve, we have lost them! If you go the ports now, they are empty.
Completely empty! So how are we sure that customs is going to make 400 billion naira this year talk more of the targeted one trillion. WTO and WCO came out with a concept and this concept is for us to drive and treat valuation. Valuation is a core component of trade and should not be toyed with! And that is why it is based on the technical aspect of training. That is why customs should be trained on the treatment of value.
Can one say that your petition to the Senate prompted Customs to suspend the recent controversial benchmark?
How many people have written to senate and how many people have the senate replied? And if the senate has replied and said that this thing must be investigated that means that the presidency has replied too! This is a very serious matter, in fact, a national issue and no more custom issue! What has happened is a serious misnomer, a serious drift; a mistake that has never been done in importation in anywhere in the world! We have lost traffic and this is going to affect the terminal operators, and the customs licensed agents. Yes, the customs licensed agents are in for a very strong fight and I led them and must make sure they move out from their poverty level. So, it is not about custom suspending the benchmark.
The question is how would they get back the traffic? They must be investigated! They have made many people to lose their jobs; they have made many importers to divert their cargo. There is no more confidence in the system. If you go to the ports now, they are empty. How do you get the confidence back? It’s not just about suspending it, why did they take that decision initially when they know it’s not professionally right, legally right, operationally right or domestically right? Why did they take that decision? It will take another three years to get the kind of cargo we had to come through the ports. The revenue profile of the port industry is finished so the one trillion naira target is facing very serious threat.
As a member of the Presidential Committee on Customs Reform shouldn’t you have tried correcting customs before writing a petition against it?
The committee did that but they stopped it! We ought to have started implementation of the report from the committee now. It was the best report but they recommendations have not been implemented! I was the subcommittee chairman on this issue of valuation from the taskforce and at the end of the day the customs themselves agreed that what they are doing is legal. We harmonised the whole thing, stopped all what they are doing and asked them to do the right thing but now they are coming back to impose values. If the customs is not reformed, the government must reform them! We have the cargo but we don’t have the facilities and when another country siphons our cargo, it will be very difficult to bring them back.
So, how do you think we can remedy this situation?
It is only when the president steps in because it is no more a customs matter. The presidency must step in and build back confidence by making some changes. If not so we have lost our cargo that it took us time to bring.
Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.