It is an incontrovertible fact that Prince Olayiwola Shittu (JP) has provided purposeful leadership for the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). The association, for the first time in its 60-year history, recently acquired a structure for use as its permanent National Secretariat which is expected to be formally commissioned by Vice President Namadi Sambo on Friday 5th September, 2014.
At its General Meeting held in the new facility on Tuesday 12th August 2014, the association’s discussion and resolution on the implememntaion of the pre-arrival assessment report (PAAR) generated some controversies.
In this interview granted exclusively to SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, the ANLCA National President clarifies his association’s position on PAAR even as he accused opportunists of attempts to discredit the oldest umbrella body of licensed Customs agents for personal gains.
There has been so much talk and different versions of the resolution of ANLCA leaders as it regards Customs’ implementation of the pre-arrival assessment report (PAAR). Is PAAR a failure?
ANLCA never said PAAR is a failure. We have had reactions due to some misconception and rumors and falsehood being bandied around by mischief makers who before now never had faith in PAAR. Even in the beginning of PAAR and when there were glitches; we continuously admonished our members to give PAAR a chance to work. All the glitches are over, PAAR as document for clearance purposes is not only a brilliant idea but it is an innovation due to the competence and professionalism of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
However, in the true professional way, ANLCA summoned a meeting of all our executives and members nationwide for them to come and assess how far, how well the PAAR has been instrumental to quick clearance of cargo. We didn’t go on air to be blowing trumpet over individual opinion. Infact the position of ANLCA is being handled by a committee set up for that purpose to look at the various arguments canvassed and come out with a true position and so it is not a public document yet. And secondly we don’t intend to go into the public domain. We agreed that we will put all these perceived areas of hiccups and forward same to the appropriate quarters for them to look at how to ameliorate some of these issues.
During the discussion, majority of the people were saying that PAAR is not the problem; that it is officers on the field who also don’t want PAAR to work. Let me tell you, the workings of PAAR is in consonance with our demand in ANLCA that we want to be doing paperless transactions – e-transaction – and the Comptroller General has been working closely with us with some consultants to see how we can be doing online transaction without anybody even going to the port, except probably when you need to go confirm the quantity of what you have.
We were surprised to hear that ANLCA has turned around and the people who are blowing the trumpet the hardest are the ones who never had faith in PAAR. They accused us at the beginning when they claimed that ANLCA had been settled and that was why we supported PAAR.
ANLCA supports PAAR but we will make all possible efforts to make sure that those working against PAAR are exposed and proper accountability is given.
Do you advocate return to Risk Assessment Report (RAR)?
Never shall we go back to the old days of doing things. It never paid us. We were a champion of doing away with the destination inspection handled by service providers and the RAR as an advisory document to customs clearance.
PAAR is a final document issued by customs. It is the implementation on the field that has hiccup because some officers don’t even know how to work with PAAR and these are not things we make noise about.
We are in touch with the appropriate quarters which is the customs high command to fine tune – like all systems – you will continue to fine tune. So we are educating our people to that effect but people who expect us to dance naked in the market place will be disappointed in the long run.
Agents have been accused of frustrating the effective implementation of PAAR through lack of honest and genuine declaration. What is your opinion on this?
You know in a situation when those who are not licensed by customs – agencies that are not licensed by customs dabbling into customs documentation – majority of those are the ones who don’t do genuine declaration.
It is not easy to maintain a customs license. Those who lost their customs licenses go under a different umbrella and they want to do customs job. All over the world, agents are licensed by the customs authority of the country. It is the duty of those that are paid to ensure that wrong declarations are made right; to make sure it works.
I can’t imagine someone living in the old times; say because an agent has tempted an officer, then the officer should aid and abet fraud. That is not possible. It is the duty of that officer to make sure that those who want to perpetrate fraud don’t succeed. But those who consistently perpetrate fraud – under-declaration, under-valuation etc – do so because there is a mutual understanding between these people to cheat the government, which becomes an issue for all of us to bear.
It is not by being our member. There are many licensed customs agencies who are not members of ANLCA today and they belong to some other fringe associations. The issue is that we are professionals. We can account for our members. In fact I challenge anybody to ask customs to profile licenses that have been dealt with today, how many of them are members of ANLCA?
Let me tell you one major problem we have with PAAR. Anybody can take the RC number of a licensed company and go and do declaration. Our people are suffering because 70 percent of the people roaming about in the port don’t have any business being at the port. So we are the vulnerable group.
Without your knowledge, somebody will take your RC number and use it to do wrong declaration and perpetrate fraud and then your license is suspended or seized. Don’t you think we are vulnerable? So we are working hand in hand with the Nigeria Customs Service to do it the way it is done in America, Britain, South Korea, India and all the countries we have gone to. That is why we said this cyber cafe is the place where these same groups of people go to perpetrate the fraud. They do wrong declaration from there. They even still pass word from customs officers to release and exit.
We all know the problem inside the port, unfortunately we don’t address it other than to glorify what is not true. I don’t think that will work for us. But we are guarding the interest of our members; once those passwords are released, anybody who releases his password for fraud is on his own.
Have ANLCA members imbibed IT enough to work with PAAR?
What I have discovered now and because of what is at stake with most of our members is the protection of their licenses. Members that are too old to imbibe IT, many of them have employed IT workers. Even in our own association office, officers elected for particular technical purposes like Financial Secretary and National Treasurer have employed accountants to assist them to work. That will tell the level of awareness that we have.
Apapa Customs Command have an ICT centre and they asked for nominations from companies whose licenses are current and some people are kicking against it that anybody can just come in and learn ICT free; no. Because if you train just anybody, they are the ones that will use the cyber cafe to commit fraud.
You don’t need to empower criminals. Even in our new secretariat, we have a training centre for fifty persons at a time. Even customs have been conducting free training for our members and this is just the beginning because this month of August is the take-off for educating license customs agents.
In fact on a global level, a director and two appointed members will be available for training free of charge under an arrangement we already have at the highest level of customs.
But why will customs train individuals who are not working in any licensed company at all? Is that possible? That will not make sense. So it is because people are fighting for relevance that is why they wrote a petition to the Comptroller General of Customs that it should not be limited to licensed customs agents alone. That is mischief because they want to justify the free groups so that they can also be carried along.
If you don’t have a company that owns a license and you want to be a customs agent or broker, go and join a company that has license or apply for a license. The mode of application is there, the mode of renewal is also there but because of the kind of job they do, they know that they don’t have the integrity to maintain that license. That is the issue on ground.
What is the buzz around the ANLCA new secretariat?
What we have done now is that since leaders before now never thought it necessary for us to have a permanent secretariat, we felt we needed it because of our international exposure. ANLCA today has been made the regional headquarters of customs brokers in West and Central Africa. So we need a place. Other than go to the ECOWAS secretariat in Abuja, we need our national secretariat to accommodate this regional secretariat.
We also need to practice professionalism and in the new secretariat we have our research and development department. We are employing people, we are promoting people and we have even gotten a new Director General. That is how a professional association is expected to be and not a place where all you need to do is come around, drink beer, make noise and party.
But be that as it may, legacy is not built by a person alone. I am only the leader of a group of people; everything that is done here is done collectively and it is voluntary donations by our members that has made us achieve what we have achieved today.
Has the rife between some Board of Trustees (BOT) members and the national executives been resolved?
There is no rift anywhere in ANLCA as I am talking to you. Even those that have gone to court came for the meeting and declared that we are one. You know in the heat of anger, chances are that people will take some positions, only to realize that those positions are not worthy of being pursued.
What about the court case?
Maybe by the next adjournment, we will hear about that but what I can tell you is that we are working hand in hand with those that were even aggrieved.
We’ve sat down together, we have had series of meetings, we have explained our position, some have even apologised to us and we have apologised to those people who were not properly informed. And I can tell you at the last meeting, majority of the members of BOT were there and those who could not come even informed me of their inability and one called from China that he couldn’t make it. So we are one family as before.
How about the association’s immediate past president, Chief Ernest Elochuckwu in particular?
He personally called me from China that he will not be available and I can tell you that we speak every time and we have ironed out those differences. One thing I can assure you, there is no crack in ANLCA and I am very proud we have been able to achieve that.