Import duties soar over new forex rules
Customs, agents differ over alleged secrecy in tariff structure, graft
Duties on shipping business at the ports have shot up astronomically in the wake of the new flexible foreign exchange rate policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Already, the Federal Government has launched the implementation of the new policy, which customs and clearing agents lament has hiked duties by about 40 per cent.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had through a memo issued to all zonal co-ordinators and area controllers on July 1, 2016 directed that all commands should begin to charge duties based on the new foreign exchange regime.
The circular, signed by Deputy Comptroller-General, Tariff and Trade, A. Adewusi, said the calculation of customs duties based on the N197 to one US dollar exchange rate was no longer tenable.
However, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has complained that the operations of the NCS is shrouded in secrecy, because they are always left in the dark over new policies including the schedule of import duties.
The President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shuttu, told The Guardian yesterday that the new policy would not only affect shipping costs but ultimately trigger inflation in the economy.
“It is not only affecting the customs duties, it is affecting the purchasing power of Nigerians. It is an economic downturn that is affecting the operators, including terminal operators and other investors in the system. It is a watershed in the maritime industry,” he said.
Shittu lamented that the NCS does not find it necessary to issue circulars to operators and this has further enhanced corruption in the import duty processes.
He said: “NCS is not in the habit of circulating circulars to Customs agents . That is why the officers on the field continued to extort our members, because we don’t know the actual bill and they capitalize on the ignorance to fleece our people.
“Circulars from Customs about operations on what you have to do or comply with, should be made public. Why is the secrecy behind it? Even now if you are bringing a vehicle into the country, you don’t know how much you have to pay until you go to the Customs and start asking questions. They will tell you rates based on their discretions without showing you the official benchmark. Why shouldn’t people know? If you are talking about transparency in a new government, then everything should be open so that if you are bringing in a vehicle you already know how much to pay.
“You will pay and take your vehicle, but when things are done secretly, there will be extortion.”
But the Deputy Customs Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah, said the import duty is a public document that is duly posted on its website for easy access by everybody.
“Customs don’t charge, we have a Common External Tariff that stipulates the charges. Tariff is a public document. It is even on our website and every agent that is worth his salt will download the copy. It is even available in the zonal office in Lagos and when it comes to exchange rate, Nigerian Customs does not issue directives, it is the CBN that is in charge,” he explained.
A freight forwarder, Wale Odunusi, said the implementation of the new forex rule has affected operations, because people are finding it difficult to pay higher duties due to the economic recession.
Odunusi said the increase in duties on imported goods would translate to higher cost of goods in the market, as the country relies largely on imports.