The Joint House Committee on Finance, Marine Transport and Customs, which was mandated earlier in the month to investigate imminent port congestion as a result of non-auction of overtime cargo, said last Thursday at a public hearing that the House would act on Tuesday (tomorrow), if the Minister does not allow the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to immediately commence the disposal of goods that have stayed at the ports for over 28 days as stipulated in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).
The committee also began investigations on the amount the country may have lost to the non-evacuation of overtime cargo from the ports after it was disclosed to the committee that over 2,115 containers gazetted as overtime cargoes have not been auctioned by NCS due to suspension of the exercise by the Finance Minister in October 2011.
The Ministry of Finance, the Presidential Committee on Port Reform and the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) were directed to furnish the committee with an estimated loss of revenue since imposition of the ban.
Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Abdulmumin Jibrin, said that the ban on disposal of overtime cargoes is illegal and inimical to port operation.
Jibrin said: “It is expected that whoever gave the directive ought to have weighed all the options and the consequences on the nation’s economy before taking that decision. From what have been presented here so far, it is obvious that the nation has been losing huge revenue”.
The committee was also taken aback when it learnt that cargoes stayed more than the required days stipulated by law before being classified as overtime cargo.
While the law provided for 28 days for cargoes to be declared overtime, NCS had been applying 90 days. The committee also came hard on the leadership of NCS for failing to apply its powers to implement the law on overtime cargo.
“It is also obvious that the Customs decided not to apply its powers on a definite policy on overtime cargoes”, Jibrin said.
Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of Customs Headquarters, Mr. Tahir Musa, who representated the Comptoller-General of Customs Dikko Inde Abdullahi, at the public hearing could not offer any plausible explanation as to why the auction of overtime cargo was suspended.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, who declared the public hearing open, said that the lower chamber of the National Assembly is worried over overtime goods at the ports.
Tambuwal, represented by the Leader of the House, Honourable Mulikat Akande Adeola, said that the non-disposal of overtime cargo is capable of creating port congestion, and eroding the gains of port reforms.
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