Controller, Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Charles Edike, is today full of smiles as he revels in the successful takeover of full implementation of the destination inspection scheme by the NCS in December last year.
At a media chat held in Lagos recently, Edike said the premiere Customs Command now generates revenue in excess of N1 billion daily as a result of the takeover and implementation of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR).
Can you give us a brief overview of the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR)?
The PAAR, the Nigerian Trade Hub, the Single Window you are seeing today did not just start overnight. The CGC, Dr. Abdullahi Dikko CFR and his team have, over the years, quietly prepared for this. I must also confess that the first time we were called to the national headquarters; I said to myself that this is a silent revolution that can now come out for all Nigerians to see and appreciate. The PAAR allows you do all your documentary business while waiting for the cargo to arrive. Once the cargo arrives, you go to the shipping site and take delivery. But this would not work if there’s no transparency. The full benefits of what the CGC is doing would not be fully enjoyed if the importers and agents are not transparent. As an importer or an agent, all you need to do is to assess the portal, go to the classification tool and select what you want to import and the system would interact with you up to the point of importation and tell you if you need any government agency to intervene; NAFDAC, SON, NESREA or any other government agency. It would also help you to calculate your duty, freight and other relevant charges from whatever country you are bringing the consignment from. Once you are honest and straight forward during interaction, you won’t have any problem at all and therefore once the PAAR is issued to you by Customs, nobody will ask you any question again. Now where trouble would be is if you lie during interaction with the system. It will amount to garbage in, garbage out.
The need for honesty and transparency is what would drive the system. It also means that with transparency, the time and cost of doing business at the ports would be reduced so it is better for an agent or importer to be transparent and be truthful for this system to work.
When you open a container, look on the left hand side you will see a pouch which contains the parking list and the final invoice but these days importers don’t put those information in there anymore. If you are transparent, you are supposed to tell your supplier to put that information there but these days importers now tell suppliers not to put that information there because before it gets here, they would have doctored their documents. The full benefit of what the CGC and his team are doing is that the cost and time of doing business in our ports would be reduced and the international community would have trust in us because trade will increase.
We understand that the service providers left about 90,000 unused Risk Assessment Reports (RARs) which is threatening the take off of PAAR, how is your Command coping with this volume of unused RARs?
The backlog of RAR left by the service providers is indeed a challenge but the CGC in his wisdom immediately rolled out a circular. It says that one; goods that have arrived before 30th November 2013 with approved e-form M and processed final document but not issued RAR are directed to apply to the relevant CAC for provisional release upon payment of duty and other necessary clearing processes. Two, importers who have already processed their documents and whose RAR are pending in the banks and could not be transmitted to the NCIS platform as at 30th November, 2013 by the service provider are directed to access their RAR from authorized dealer banks and commence their clearing process. Now what all of this means is that if you got your RAR whether the customs portal is being shut for them to access, what you need to do is to get your RAR – the RAR that the service provider issued, come to the CAC, make an application and then you continue with clearing.
We noticed that for the first two days, there was a large volume of applications. On the first day, about 317 provisional release applications were approved but surprisingly they didn’t go to pay, only 43 paid. I called agents to ask them why they are not paying to do their clearance and they expressed fear that after they pay and there is an increase in value, how would they go back and meet their importers for additional payment. When you bring your RAR and we give you approval, that’s not the end of the matter. You still have to go back to your bank to transmit that Form M to the Custom’s portal so that we can issue you a proper PAAR because the other one that was issued to you by service providers will not enter the system and so for us it is not yet acceptable. CGC has now opened this window for you to carry your goods and we know that some of those RAR issued at the last minute have integrity problems. We therefore agreed to clear you but you will submit your papers afresh for a new PAAR.
After we had a meeting with them, we explained to them that if you are transparent there won’t be any difference between the PAAR and the RAR. Even there is any difference it is going to be very minor so long as you did not go to tailor your invoice or your Form M because these documents is what the PAAR will use to assess you and give you the duty to pay. I think that gave them an assurance and on the second day there was an increase in the number of people that went to pay.
The CGC was also acted promptly by sending six ACGs (Assistant Comptroller Generals) – three to Apapa and three to Tincan. These ACGs have helped with their presence as they again called the agents and also the officers to have a talk and by the grace of God the situation is a lot better to the extent that we are hitting a billion naira plus in a day unlike the previous days where we are having 400 to 500 million but after the talk, the thing fired up to a billion plus and I had a small dance to myself.
What is the state of the scanners at the ports?
Before we fully took over, the manufacturers of the machines were invited to come and assess the state of the machines and we found out that they were actually not good enough for us. What the CGC then said was that he is going to make arrangement to acquire fifty additional scanning machines but they will come in batches to complement the ones we have now. We are managing the ones we have now. Gradually things are getting better and I must say that with this regime we are doing very well.
What strategies has Customs put in place to avoid hacking of its portal?
I have heard the CGC say in several fora that the Customs portal is as solid as rock and that deliberate efforts have been made by government and by us to try and break into itt but in vain. They tried but couldn’t because it is a solid rock. We are talking about government revenue here.
How elastic is the system to accommodate the changes in government policies?
If today government says about turn, what do you do? You about turn! The only thing you can do is when you are told to turn left at the point you are supposed to turn right is to say “Oga I’ve turned left but these are the consequences of my turning left o.” When it concerns policies coming from the government, like fiscal policies, Customs can only advise but it is left to government in its wisdom to accept or not to accept because those in government will look at the bigger picture in making their decisions.
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