Reps’ panel cautions against fresh moves to represent $300m customs modernisation project
The House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Customs and Public Petitions has cautioned the Federal Government to be wary of fresh moves to repackage and represent an earlier proposal to modernise the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
A member of the panel, who craved anonymity, told The Guardian at the weekend in Lagos that some powerful interest groups in and outside government were bent on representing the $300 million project, which was earlier investigated by the National Assembly and subsequently suspended by the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
The Guardian recalled that Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, Jerry Alagbaoso, had in October 2019 moved a motion to investigate the proposed deal on concession arrangement to modernise the NCS, leading to its suspension in November last year.
But indications have emerged that the promoters of the scheme are now bent on representing it to the Federal Government with a view to convincing both the Executive and Legislative arms of government on the need to make the project fly.
Moving the motion on the floor of the House, Alagbaoso had cautioned that the deal would do the country no good, insisting that its promoters were only interested in what they stand to gain in the project, which they see as a ‘juicy’ scheme.
He said: “There are some foreign companies who are very eager to sponsor, finance and provide technical support and services to what they call modernisation of the customs without recourse to the National Assembly.
“My motion is to stress the need to investigate the curious concession proposed arrangement between the consortium of Bionica Technologies West Africa Limited, who are the sponsors; Began Security Consultants and Supplies, who are co-sponsors and the African Finance Corporation (AFC) as lead financiers and Huawei, Nigeria Customs Service and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for the project.”
After presenting the motion, Alagbaoso (Chairman, Public Petitions), James Abiodun Faleke (Chairman, Finance) and Yuguda Hassan Kila (Chairman, Customs) in a memo to the Minister of Finance dated October 30, 2019, stressed the need for all parties involved in the project to maintain the status quo ante pending the outcome of investigations, which led to the suspension of the deal.
Specifically, Alagbaoso, who cited various customs modernisation projects in the past, including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for the installation of ASYCUDA++ and training of customs officers for three years, expressed worries that there was no difference in substance, scope and structure between the failed concession attempts of 2011, 2017 and 2019, stressing that there was already a national single window platform in the NCS through which officers of the service were collecting duties in billions of naira on daily basis.
He, therefore, insisted that the Federal Government was being misled on the one per cent CISS, which has accumulated in billions of naira at the CBN.