The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has condemned the deployment of Customs Strike Force to the nation’s ports, saying it would be harmful to investment and slow cargo clearing process.
LCCI Director-General, Muda Yusuf, who stated this in Lagos weekend, said the move would undermine the Ease of Doing Business Policy of the Federal Government and negate the Presidential Executive Order on streamlining of ports processes.
“The attention of the chamber has been drawn to the circular issued by the Customs Headquarters, deploying the Strike Force to all ports with the powers to intercept and effect seizures of cargoes.
“It is a duplication of functions of the Customs resident officers at the ports which have statutory responsibilities to examine and release cargoes to importers.
“This move will slow down the cargo clearing process as it amounts to creation of another layer of authority to intercept and seize cargoes that have been duly released by all agencies involved in the examination of the cargoes,” he said.
According to him, agencies that examine cargoes at the ports at present include resident customs officers of the command, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Department of State Security, ports police, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
He said the deployment of the strike force to the ports suggested distrust in resident Customs officers deployed to various commands by the Comptroller General (CG).
“The appropriate thing to do in the circumstance is for the CG to replace these officers with trusted ones rather than superimpose another set of customs operatives on the system.
“This new deployment will make the entire process chaotic, cumbersome, costly and inefficient. It can also create an additional credibility problem,” he said.
He said that delays in cargo clearing process often resulted in high and avoidable demurrage to importers, high interest costs on funds used for import transactions, and disruption of business processes including manufacturing activities.
Yusuf urged that the deployment of the Strike Force to the ports should be reversed urgently to ease business.
He also said that scanners at the Lagos Ports Complex had not been functioning in the last two years, adding that dependence on physical examination for cargo releases had been laborious and time wasting.
“The Lagos ports are the largest in the country, handling over 1.5 million 20-foot equivalent units of containers annually.
“This underscores the enormity of the consequences of physical examination of containers for the efficacy of cargo clearing.
“It is incredibly detrimental to the cargo release process and the economy.
“It is imperative for the Federal Government to expedite actions on the procurement of scanners for the ports in order to put an end to the physical examination of cargo and make the system technology-driven,” he said.
Mr Yusuf also said that the chamber had received complaints of protracted delays in issuance of Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) which had led to high demurrage payment by many importers.
He appealed for the intervention of the Comptroller-General of Customs in ensuring more efficient ways of processing and releasing of PAAR.