Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO) Kunio Mikuriya was recently on a working visit to Nigeria. Mikuriya who led other members of the WCO delegates visited the Apapa Port, the Customs Training College and the Apapa Area command where he met with maritime stakeholders and port operators. The stakeholders’ although lauded the ongoing reforms of the Nigeria Customs Service, part of which is the takeover of destination inspection from service providers, however identified several other challenges encountered during cargo clearance at the port. They therefore seek the intervention of the WCO especially in curtailing the importation of hazardous goods into Nigeria. Journalists present at the meeting took the WCO scribe on a number of issues raised by the stakeholders. Shulammite ‘Foyeku was there for SHIPS&PORTS DAILY.
A lot of issues were raised by the stakeholders, how much should we be expecting when it comes to issue of efficiency and ensuring that all the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service are in tandem with the recommendation of the WCO?
It is my pleasure to be here to listen to stakeholders views on the customs reforms. I noticed that many of them have supported the takeover of destination inspection by customs which is fine because nowadays almost all the countries are buying for competitiveness. But to get that competitiveness, several elements like infrastructure, and how effective border procedures are must be taken into cognizance. We are living in a global supply chain, and there is a need to participate in the global economy. What is important is to ensure connectivity and as I always say customs should be the agent for connectivity and of course in close partnership with business. To achieve this, first thing is communication and dialogue between customs and business. Customs are to share information and also make consultation. Customs can engage business not only big but small and medium enterprises because for that competitiveness to be fully maximized, customs should support business environment especially small and medium enterprises. But how can you involve the informal sector into the formal sector which is another challenge in this region? Customs has several solutions but one solution is that of identifying compliant traders and provides more facilitative measures. So this must be a win- win situation, so that customs can concentrate its resources on more high risk area. So this is what we recommend .The Nigeria Customs Service is under transformation and it is not on the taking of the destination inspection alone but also adopting a modern customs operation model that WCO recommends. What the stakeholders recommend is actually why I am here to discuss with NCS to further improve the transformation and customs reforms process. I am very positive about this movement and this stakeholders meeting has been a good opportunity for both customs and stakeholders to move forward for a common goal in the future. But I know the NCS is willing to base all their operation on best practices.
Would you say the takeover of destination inspection scheme by the Nigeria Customs Service is a good step in the right direction?
With regards to destination inspection, that is WCO’s principle that customs should enhance it capability and therefore once there is a political wheel to move away from pre shipment inspection we provide the entire needed assistant. So this is really in the direction of the WCO because in the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on trade facilitation, it clearly says that pre shipment inspection should be phased out. So it is globally that we are moving into that direction. One thing that occurred recently right after NCS takeover of destination inspection is that WTO adopted an agreement called agreement on trade facilitation. They have taking many of our best practices standards incorporated into their agreement which is binding. Again, this provides us another work tool for both customs to increase capacity with the professionalism and integrity and for our stakeholders to get better compliance so that together, we can facilitate legitimate trade and contribute to the economy.
What is WCO doing in ensuring that importation of hazardous products into a particular country is actually stemmed from the country of origin?
Customs mission is on one hand revenue collection and trade facilitation and by trade facilitation, economic competitiveness but also protecting the citizens and society from hazardous inflow and outflow of dangerous goods. This is one area we have to apply risk management but quite often, we need to get connected to other authorities as well because, when it comes to hazardous waste or public health implications, you need to work with other ministries, like the ministry of health, ministry of veterinary and other ministries. What WCO does in preventing hazardous goods is to identify the goods, not only at the importing side but also on the exporting side; we also do awareness raising and also coordinate operations involving country of origin and destination countries and try to communicate to each other about suspicious containers and how they are moving. We also help countries not only in Africa but all over the world to seize hazardous goods. But what is important is to back track, towards the country of origin of such goods, because it not only customs problems but also political problems, commercial interest is also involve. So how to raise awareness at the policy level is what we are doing and at the same time, we provide necessary information and know how to identify those containers concealing hazardous waste.
What is your advice to the NCS on the complaints of multiple government agencies operating at the ports thereby delaying cargo clearance?
Customs needs to have better coordination not only with other regulatory agencies but also with other law enforcement agencies. To achieve that coordination of border management is really an issue for all the customs administrations, but one area is really to establish information sharing with those ministries and this is where the single window comes in. Having this coordinated border management with customs sharing information to other government agencies and to traders will help address the situation.
What is an acceptable value has been a major issue between customs and customs agents, what do you think can be done to address this conflict?
For valuation, what is important is creating verification capability within customs so that once the declaration is there, customs officers can see if they are acceptable or not and know if they need more investigation or not. One area that we have is to establish data base of valuation so that in the future, customs can verify any valuation based on the past. Off course those data should be that which were already verified, so that kind of establishment is necessary. Data base should not be used as determining value rather risk management whether the declarations are within the scope of acceptable ones or that which they must conduct investigation on. So that kind of valuation data base is something I am going to discuss with the Nigeria Customs Service.