It took several years of a soul searching exercise among serious-minded stakeholders namely the Ministries of Finance, National Planning and Transport, and the Nigeria Customs Service to invent the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) specifically designed to fast track cargo clearance at the ports.
The Nigeria Customs Service has received commendation from both local and international bodies since it introduced PAAR late last year.
Before the application of the PAAR regime, the Customs management held several fora in Lagos and Abuja explaining its operations to stakeholders and fielded questions from freight forwarders, importers, banks, terminal operators, shipping companies and others. Also, the Customs spent two years training its officers on PAAR operations for effective take off of the regime.
Those fora afforded different groups the opportunity to foresee some problems that may arise in the applications of PAAR even as the Customs management did not hesitate to warn importers and others against falsification of documents.
Furthermore, the Customs management declared that those who try to undermine the integrity of PAAR would be punished while the profiles of such people would be kept in the records for reference in future transactions.NCS also warned that its officers found colluding with importers and agents would be punished.
Gladly, the NCS management assured all stakeholders that the process of PAAR was strictly on-line and importers should not bother themselves to travel to Abuja or to any PAAR office to conduct their transactions. The aim was to reduce human contact, eliminate corruption and ensure the credibility of the scheme.
The worry of the Nigerian public and other concerned stakeholders is the alleged wheeling and dealing involving some bank officials and Customs operatives in the PAAR offices to facilitate the issuance of the clearing document. This is an absurdity. At a meeting held in Lagos recently, some freight forwarders openly made this accusation, pointing that some essential PAAR documents were used for this nefarious business.
At the forum, officials of the banks, Central Bank of Nigeria and the service provider, Webb Fontaine, were all present.
If really PAAR is being released electronically, why have there been physical contacts among the importers, bank officials and freight forwarders? What explains this? Are these parties really inter-connected as Nigerians are made to believe? Is PAAR truly and strictly and online scheme? What is the Customs management doing to ensure that this unwholesome practice is halted now and culprits punished accordingly?
A fundamental complaint by the bankers present at the forum was that most of the cargo scheduled for clearing at the ports did not have PAAR, claiming that for this reason, they could not process the cargoes. The bank representatives were unhappy that importers blame them for the delays associated with the issuance of PAAR by Customs.
These delays and other myriad of problems afflicting PAAR are manmade. The management of Customs should therefore quickly tackle these problems before they fester. Trade must be facilitated at this critical time to stimulate the economy.
It is also germane that the principal players in cargo clearance should be interconnected so that all clearing processes will be conducted electronically as originally planned. This is important to save man hour, eliminate corruption and uphold the integrity of cargo clearance in Nigeria. PAAR is a critical economic and trade facilitation tool that that all stakeholders must rally round and support to achieve speedy cargo clearance at the port.