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Experts fault Customs’ impromptu deactivation of terminal

By Adaku Onyenucheya
20 July 2022   |   2:39 am
Thousands of fast-tracked goods and reefer cargoes are stuck at the Five Star Logistics Terminal, following the impromptu deactivation of the Customs e-portal, an action said to be a negation of the Customs

[FILES] Nigeria Customs Service PHOTO: NAN

Importers record loss
… Says action negates CEMA

Thousands of fast-tracked goods and reefer cargoes are stuck at the Five Star Logistics Terminal, following the impromptu deactivation of the Customs e-portal, an action said to be a negation of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).

Worried by the fiscal and supply chain challenges from this development, economic experts have condemned Customs’ approach as the punitive action on the seaport terminal that has inhibited the operations of other service users at the port facility.

Recall that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had last week deactivated the seaport terminal from its portal over unpaid debt amounting to about N97.3 million.

A member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Dr. Ikenna Nwosu described Customs action as irrational and a violation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaty on trade facilitation.

According to the economic expert, the cost implication of shutting the terminal’s access to the Customs portal of over N97 million is not a wise move when considering that the facility enables Customs to generate over N150 million daily.

“This development calls to question the efficiency of Customs. It is wrong to technically shut the terminal and disrupt trade because there was no prior notice for port users to stop sending cargoes to the facility. Customs cannot collect duties, yet stop people from accessing their cargoes,” he said.

Nwosu stressed that the consignees responsible for the vehicle imports should be made to pay the duties, just as he warned that consignees who have Fast Track goods and reefer cargoes could sue Customs over the impromptu deactivation of the terminal.

The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf advised Customs to find more innovative alternatives to recoup their revenue without disrupting trade and supply chain.

Yusuf, who is also a former Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), argued that if a service provider commits an infraction or there are compliance issues, the matter should be addressed carefully in order not to transmit the consequences to innocent business persons.

“There should be a way to sanction a service provider without allowing it to disrupt the activities of their clients. In this case, importers of reefer containers and fast track cargoes are innocent and shouldn’t be made to suffer the alleged wrongdoing or non-compliance of Five Star Logistics. It will be unfair to allow importers to pay and suffer the consequences for crimes they didn’t commit. We aren’t saying Customs shouldn’t sanction Five Star, but they can do it in a way that the consequences wouldn’t fall on innocent clients,” he said.

Meanwhile, a freight agent, Olamide James, who works at the terminal, revealed that the N97million being demanded by Customs as unpaid assessment borders on some vehicles, which are suspected to have entered the nation via land borders.

He expressed dissatisfaction as the situation has brought discomfort to other port users especially those who have Fast Track containers and reefer cargoes stuck at the terminal.

James lamented that Nigerian shippers will suffer additional demurrage costs even if the terminal decides to waive storage charges after the quagmire.

He, however, observed that few shipping companies make regular calls at the terminal with thousands of new and used vehicles, noting that these shipping companies don’t transmit single manifests, which allegedly led to the unpaid assessment being demanded by Customs.

Based on these observations, he advised Customs to carry out a forensic investigation using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and stressed that CEMA stipulates that declarants, who are freight forwarders, should be held liable and not the terminal operator.

“Owners of Fast Track containers at the terminal have become apprehensive over delayed delivery of their containers, while those with time-bound reefer containers have also started registering complaints over their consignments stuck at the terminal,” he added.

A source close to the former General Manager of Five Star Logistics Terminal, Mr. Wolfgang Schneider, said last year the former General Manager complained that Customs wrote to the company about the investigation but did not provide full details of the vehicles to enable the terminal to carry out its investigation.

The source also argued that Customs could easily trace the defaulting freight agents using VIN and wondered what role the Enforcement Unit of Customs played if the vehicles actually left the terminal without paying duties.

According to him, the action of NCS has shown that the Service is more concerned about collecting the N97 million from the terminal, while the culprits roam free and nothing is done to prevent the anomaly from reoccurring.

Industry observers, however, have noted that NCS has developed a propensity for shutting down terminals over similar unpaid assessments.

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