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‘Discriminatory duty waivers, tariff concession detrimental to economy’

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Maritime stakeholders have backed the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for insisting that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) of Government must pay duties and taxes on imported vehicles and other equipment brought into the country.

The NCS, had, in a statement issued by the Deputy National Public Relation Officers, Timi Bomodi, on Friday, said it will no longer be business as usual for MDAs who evade duties in the name of waiver, as they were not exempted from payment of duties and taxes on items imported into the country.

He said all outstanding duties and taxes relating to such imports are expected to be paid in full, even in situations where these imports were executed by agents or proxies on their behalf, except where waivers and/or concessions were sought and granted.

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Bomodi explained that only items imported by the President, Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are exempted from the payment of duty or taxes by law.

Speaking to The Guardian on the development, Former Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr Muda Yusuf, said MDAs are an integral part of the Nigerian economy and therefore should be subjected to the same rules that apply to other economic players, otherwise, they could become a major source of distortions in the economy.

He said a discriminatory or selective import duty might create incentives for imports by the MDAs to the detriment of locally produced goods, adding that import duty waiver or tariff concession should be targeted at sectors or products that are strategic from an economic, social or security perspective.

“If there is a strategic decision to give tariff concessions to specific sectors, then all players in the sector should have access to such concessions, whether they are in private or public sectors. Best practice principles in economic management demands that a level playing field should be created for all players in the economic space,” he stressed.

Spokesperson of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Dr. Bolaji Akinola, said adherence to the law cannot be subjected to debate, noting that waivers have been serially abused in the past, leading to enormous revenue loss to government.

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He said the Customs is moving to block revenue loss by government in this regard, noting that the MDAs contract out the purchase of their vehicles, in which the contractors bring such vehicles into the country and sells it at market price to the MDAs, while at the same time using them as cover to avoid payment of import duties.

He added that government agencies must pay duties and taxes on the items imported by and on their behalf as mandated by CEMA, as this will certainly increase Customs revenue.

President Shippers Association of Lagos (SAL), Jonathan Nicol, said the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) empowers the Nigeria Customs Service to invade anyone’s home if they suspect there are prohibitive items hidden somewhere.

He said the NCS is however applying the archaic Customs and Excise Regulations in the qualification of waiver, adding that the Federal Government agencies are not considered in the CEMA document for exemption of duty and taxes.

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He called on the Senate to amend the Customs And Excise Management Act as soon as possible, noting that the amendment will take care of under declaration, which he said was introduced by some officials of the NCS to circumvent duty payments with some importers.

Nicol said the amendment would also create a very decent and respected Nigeria Customs outfit devoid of suspicion and unnecessary invasion of fundamental human rights of shippers and importers.

The National President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, said there is nothing special with the MDAs flouting of the waivers, noting that the shipping companies flouted government directives on rent waivers for importers even during the chronic pandemic of COVID-19.

He said the government needs to be stricter with their policies and compliance, as illegal waiver will definitely affect the overall total sum of duties to be collected.

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