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Customs

Who Is Afraid Of Transparency In Customs’ Operations?

Bomodi

Timi Bomodi

On September 26, 2021, members of Freight Forwarding Associations and Customs Licensed agents, including executives and members of thE Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF) and three other associations held a meeting at a popular hotel in Apapa, Lagos.

Among other things they were reported to have complained about was an intended hike in license fees, arbitrary increases in Nigeria Customs Service duty, hikes in the values of Pre-Arrival Assessment Reports(PAAR) issued to importers, the conduct of Valuation Officers, uncertainty or inconsistencies in tariff classifications for certain goods, frequent alerts, and the illogic of government giving revenue targets to Customs, especially in an era of trade facilitation.

Again on October 5th, 2021, and in response to the invitation of the House of Representatives Committee on Customs, ANLCA was quoted to have said that “the present Customs Management is not interested in professionalism and trade facilitation,  but to circumvent all processes for revenue generation”.

The Nigeria Customs recognises and acknowledges the rights of Nigerians to freely organise, assemble and associate for the purpose of articulating group goals, visions, and objectives.

The NCS also acknowledges truth as the ultimate instrument which can free the maritime industry from the shackles of deceit and liberate our economy from the trenchant actions of those committed to sabotaging our efforts.

This is why it has become imperative to correct the numerous misrepresentations about the NCS contained in both their press release and the presentation made before the House Committee on Customs.

These recent outbursts and accusations do not come as a surprise.

In truth, Nigerians are not fooled by the current cavalier attitude of certain persons who for far too long, had an entrenched culture of opacity and disrespect for laws, regulations, rules, and procedures when it comes to making proper declarations for the purpose of paying correct government duties and taxes. Understanding their antecedents will throw more light on their recent ‘crusade’ against the current management of NCS.

Some executive members of these associations have long abandoned their responsibilities in entrenching professionalism among their colleagues.

They have forgotten their oath of honesty in their dealings with the government and have taken to the pursuit of power for personal aggrandizement. They have attempted to use their positions to procure favours for themselves and their companies.

When confronted with the force of reason, they have resorted to threats and blackmail . Incapable of articulating their positions in reference to our books of laws, they have resorted to intimidation, and have even facilitated physical attacks on our officers.

In all these situations, officers of the Nigeria Customs have refused to be cowed. We have remained resolute in our commitment to the government by towing the path of honor.

Our achievements in revenue collection and anti-smuggling speak for themselves. The current management under the watch of the Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retd), has shown exceptional leadership in this regard.

Our systems have been put through a good number of iterations.  From ASYCUDA I, II, & ++, to NICIS I & II. We are currently on the verge of migrating to E-Customs, which will herald a new epoch,  as all Customs activities will be electronically enabled.

The simplification, harmonisation, and automation of Customs activities are in tandem with WCO and WTO objectives for trade facilitation. Our commitment to this reality is unshakeable and our actions bear testament to our resolve.

We also note that trade compliance is a sine qua non for trade facilitation. Where the level of compliance is low, the level of control becomes high.

Some agents and Customs brokers have taken abnormalities as rights. They have assumed the role of activists, encouraging illegal behaviours.

This cannot be accepted as no government agency worth its name will allow itself to be swayed by the whims and caprices of those whose actions they are supposed to superintend. Indeed it will be a complete dereliction of duty if we succumb to these and other attempts.

The disposition of NCS management is neither authoritarian nor archaic. Its actions have always been guided by federal government policy decisions in line with international agreements and conventions on trade.

Contrary to their claims, there has been no attempt to arbitrarily increase the license fee of Customs Licensed Agents. It is important to note that the fees payable by Customs Licensed agents are  as approved by law outlined in section 156 of CEMA as amended.  The only recourse to a revision in fees can only be as dictated to by extant laws.

Arbitrary increase in Customs duty.

There are two main avenues for the adjustment of duty payable to the government that a Customs officer can legally activate.

Where the transaction value declared for an item is questionable and where the classification of the item is wrong.

The former refers to the declared CIF value, while the latter concerns the HS code for that item.

Part II of the Common External Tariff prescribes ‘General Rules for the interpretation of the Harmonised System’.

There are six rules in total and they provide clear, unambiguous guidelines for the classification of all goods under the CET. These rules are not subject to the interpretation of Customs officers alone as they are captured in simple English for the enlightenment of all persons equipped with the proper understanding of that language.

In addition to the interpretative rules are chapter headings and the explanatory notes which are designed to further highlight grey areas both of inclusions and exclusions as deemed appropriate for classification purposes.

The issue of value has also been comprehensively addressed in the WTO Agreement for Customs value adopted in Article VII of General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, 1994.

This agreement provides a Customs Valuation method primarily based on the transaction value of the imported goods, also known as either the price ACTUALLY PAID or PAYABLE for the goods when sold for export to the country of importation.

In addition to the transaction value, WTO prescribes five other methods that can be applied successively. So the transaction value is followed by:

The transaction value of identical goods
The transaction value of similar goods

The deductive value method

The computed value method

The fall-back method.

In applying these rules for Customs valuation, the Service has noticed frequent attempts by importers, and, or their agents to falsify transaction values in order to evade the payment of correct duties.

Their insistence on uniform values for cars of the same make and manufacture is at best illogical when we agree that there are no uniform purchase prices, especially for cars from diverse locations.

A true declaration of the purchase value for cars should suffice,  but agents have been known to deliberately mislead importers, by promising them lower duties even when they’ve been furnished with the correct information. Competition among themselves for customers has itself become inimical to honest declarations for tax purposes.

Freight, being an important consideration for assessing value, needs to be highlighted.
Indeed in recent times, there have been sharp increases in shipping costs across the globe occasioned by the effects of the pandemic refs:https://www.wsj.com/articles/container-ship-prices-skyrocket-as-rush-to-move-goods-picks-up-11625482800https://amp.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3147013/chinas-shipping-container-costs-hit-all-time-highs-andhttps://www.reuters.com/business/china-us-container-shipping-rates-sail-past-20000-record-2021-08-05/.

The above links from Reuters, Wall Street Journal, and others can be easily verified.

The cost of freight alone is one out of three components which when added up, defines the value for duty.

The others are the cost of the product itself and the insurance payable for the goods in transit, otherwise known as the CIF value.

Where the value of the goods remains constant, but the freight rate changes, it will have an effect on the total CIF value of the goods assessed for duty.

In this case, the transaction value must be a true representation of the actual monetary component of the exchange.

In addition to this is the increase in the exchange rate. Where all other components of value remain constant, the exchange rate alone can trigger increases in value for duty.

It is, therefore, curious to observe individuals insisting on retaining the same historical values contrary to abundant current evidence.

What the Nigeria Customs Service has been inundated with are fictional representations of this monetary component which bear no resemblances to present realities. In truth, a good number of Customs agents and importers have been connected with this unwholesome practice.

Even the agents themselves cannot recognise the obvious contradictions in their statements. In one breath, they demand uniform values for cars but insist on totally different standards for other commodities.

There are no benchmarks for costs, values, or duty. However, when agents resort to cooking up invoices with the intention of evading duty, we are also duty-bound to adjust those values using the WTO Agreement on Customs Valuation, to reflect reality.

Where there is honesty in intention and action, the NCS can only reciprocate in good faith.

We live in a world where authenticating documents submitted for the validation of Customs has been made easy by technology.

The NCS has at its disposal the historical records of all imports/exports, importers/exporters, and a comprehensive index of values submitted by importers themselves.

The Service has numerous resources at its disposal for the verification, authentication, and adjustment of submitted data.

The same agents develop selective amnesia when confronted with the historical data of their importers within defined periods as cross-referenced from our system

We understand the frustrations of some of these agents as reports reaching Customs Headquarters indicate a radical change in the trajectory of business practices at our ports and borders.

This penchant for cutting corners as exemplified in false declarations and illegal deductions in Customs values is constantly checkmated by diligent officers intent on facilitating legitimate trade only.

So their anger is not for the number of alerts in the system but for being stopped by it. With the introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning, more loopholes in the system will be identified and plugged.

We hope when this happens, they will attend anger management classes to save themselves the cost of managing their health.

As agents of the government, we can only live to the billings and briefs issued to us by our supervising ministry. Revenue collection, being one of our duties, is one to which we are wholly committed as attested to by our groundbreaking achievements in current and previous years.

We owe no organisation any explanation in our commitment to collecting revenue for the government. Our risk management protocols are determined by the strategic needs of the Service.

Our risk management techniques have been quite effective as evidenced in duty recoveries, and landmark seizures.

The activities of FOU and other intervention units of the Service are all part of the same risk management architecture. Officers who were found to be complicit in aiding the illegal activities of agents have been shown the way out.

Others with more grievous offences have been prosecuted in the courts.

The recent installation of scanners at a few of our ports will address the challenge of physical examination of goods and we look forward to their full engagement as it will no doubt help to facilitate trade.

We are also mindful of the impact our actions can have on legitimate traders, that is why we have provided avenues for the expedited clearance of goods under the fast track and other facilitative channels for businesses with unblemished records.

Often when disputes on classification and, or value arise following examination, a lot of time is wasted on baseless arguments.

Because most agents are not grounded in the rudiments of the Common External Tariff, and other books of instructions, they tend to use bargaining as a tool for resolving disputes, when all they need do is make superior submissions by referring to relevant books of authority.

Meanwhile, the system has provided outlets that allow for goods to be released under bank indemnity while the issues in dispute are being resolved. This mechanism is entrenched in the Post Clearance Audit department.

The Service takes serious exceptions to attempts by individuals or associations to intimidate or blackmail its officers in the course of their official functions.

While complaints and feedback are encouraged from agents and other members of the public, we reiterate our right to determine for ourselves frameworks for effective and efficient performances within the ambit of the law and executive orders.

The security situation in the country demands a dynamic approach to effective border management. The deployment of our assets is as dictated by intelligence and the risk profiling mechanisms of the Service. Those without skeletons in their cupboards have absolutely no reason to be afraid.

Finally, the NCS awaits the success of their recommendations to the government regarding revenue targets to Customs, so we can concentrate on trade facilitation and anti-smuggling activities alone. As always, our resolve for fulfilling our mandate is matched only with our determination for success and we remain totally focussed in this regard.

 Bomodi is the Deputy National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service.

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Customs

Exclusive! Customs heads to court to vacate injunction against Customs concession project

CGC, Ali

 

—-accuses aggrieved litigants of pulling out of project

Eyewitness Reporter

The Nigeria Customs Service has instructed its legal team to head to court in a bid to vacate the restraining order on the implementation of the $3.2billion Customs concession programme.

A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday has restrained the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the Customs Modernisation Project otherwise known as E- custom allegedly executed by its agents on May 30, 2022.

Justice Inyang Ekwo issued the orders while ruling on an ex-parte motion filed by two firms – E-Customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, which was argued on Friday by their lawyer, Anone Usman.

However, the Nigeria Customs, through its National Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomodi, said the service will go to court to challenge the order.

In an exclusive interview with our reporter, Bomodi declared that the management of the agency will not engage in what he called small talk over the matter that is already in court because that would be sub-judicial.

”We will go to court”, he declared emphatically.

We can’t be making small talk over a matter that is already in court, that will be sub judicial.

”Customs will make its reaction in court and that will be for the public to judge what the issues are”, the Customs spokesman stated.

He further explained that the litigants, E-customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, pulled out of the agreement on their own accord when they said they could not accept the terms and conditions of the projects.

Bomodi stated that the Trade Modernization Project Limited; Huawei Technologies Limited and African Finance Corporation, who eventually won the concession bid, agreed with the same terms and conditions that the litigants rejected for the same amount.

”The people that took the Customs to court were in the beginning part of the process, they disagreed with certain parts of the agreement and they couldn’t go forward.

”Of course, if you have some people who disagreed with what you are planning together and they pulled out and they were not asked to leave, they pulled out on their own, does that mean because they were there in the beginning, the project cannot go on?”, he asked rhetorically.

”That doesn’t make sense.

”The project was conceived to help the service better and those that we started the journey together couldn’t agree with the terms and conditions of the project and they left and some other people came in to take up their slot.

”Those ones said they could achieve the same results with the same terms and conditions which the other party rejected” Bomodi said.

He stated that the Customs shall argue its case in the court and will leave the judge to decide the merit or otherwise of the case.

Customs shall be in court and do the needful”, the Customs spokesman concluded with emphasis.

The court, on Friday, also issued an order of interim injunction against the Federal Government or its agents acting through the Federal Executive Council from retrospectively ratifying the decision to concession the Customs Modernisation Project also known as the e- custom project to Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Limited and African Finance Corporation.

The restraining order issued by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Division of the court shall last till the hearing and the determination of a suit brought against the Federal Government and other parties by two aggrieved companies.

The two aggrieved companies, E-customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited jointly challenged the alleged unlawful and fraudulent concession of the E-custom project to the defendants.

Counsel to the two aggrieved companies, Anone Usman, had on behalf of the two plaintiffs, argued an ex-parte application praying the Federal High Court for the interim orders against the defendants to protect the interest of his clients.

Justice Ekwo, while ruling on the ex-parte application, granted the prayers of the plaintiff having placed sufficient evidence of interest in the concession project.

The judge also granted permission to the aggrieved companies to serve a writ of summons and all other filed processes on the African Finance Corporation at its head office, located in Ikoyi, Lagos through DHL courier services.

Defendants in the suit are the Federal Government of Nigeria; Attorney-General of the Federation; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; the Infrastructure Regulatory Concession Commission; Nigeria Customs Service; Trade Modernization Project Limited; Huawei Technologies Limited; African Finance Corporation and Bergman Security Consultant and Supply Limited being 1st to 9th defendants respectively.

Justice Ekwo subsequently fixed June 28 for the hearing in the matter.

The two plaintiffs had in their statement of claim narrated how they proposed to carry out customs modernization project through several government officials for the benefit of the Nigeria Customs Service.

They claimed that after a series of meetings and negotiations with some of the defendants, President Muhammadu Buhari granted anticipated approval for the e- custom Project

They averred that on September 2, 2020, the Minister of Finance presented a memo number EC2020/153 to the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) the highest decision-making body of the Federal Government, and secured approval for the two plaintiffs to be granted the concession.

Plaintiffs further claimed that trouble started when the Nigeria Customs Service unilaterally reviewed the FEC approval and imposed other conditions among which are the shareholding formula and governance structure.

They claimed that the power of the NCS to unilaterally review FEC approval was protested and that the Comptroller General of Customs stood his ground.

Plaintiff asserted that to their surprise, they read in the news that the Nigeria Customs Service had executed a concession agreement with Trade Modernization Project on May 30, 2022, Huawei Technologies Company and African Finance Corporation, in total breach of the Concession Agreement vetted by the AGF in conjunction with the Minister of Finance.

They averred that Trade Modernization Project was incorporated April 2022 at the Corporate Affairs Commission with one Alhaji Saleh Amodu, a close friend of the Comptroller General of Customs as the chairman.

Plaintiff asserted that the new company, having been just incorporated in April 2022, could not have obtained and did not obtain the full business case compliance certificate from the Infrastructure Regulatory Concession Commission and the approval of the Federal Executive Council to carry out the e- custom project.

They, therefore, asked the court to make a declaration that the decisions of the Federal Government and its agents to enter into a concession agreement with Trade Modernization Project, Huawei Technologies Company and African Finance Corporation in respect of the e-customs project is illegal, null and void, having been made in gross violation of Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act 2005.

They also asked the court to declare that E-customs HC Project Limited is the approved and rightful concessionaire for the e-customs project as approved by the Federal Executive Council at its meeting of September 2, 2020 and in line with Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Act.

They also applied for an order of the court directing the Federal Government through the AGF, Finance Minister, ICRC and NCS to consummate the E- custom project with the 1st plaintiff as approved by FEC in September 2020.

Besides, the two plaintiffs asked the court to compel the defendants to pay them a sum of Two Hundred Million Naira as the cost of litigation.

The Federal Government had on May 30, 2022  signed the e-Customs concession agreement with Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and China’s Huawei Technologies Limited.

The Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Hameed Ali, while signing the agreement in Abuja, enthused that the implementation of the project will generate a revenue of $176 billion over the next 20 years.

Ali said, the e-Customs concession project would ease the cost of doing business, boost revenue, enhance productivity and put a stop to every arbitrariness in the service.

“The $3.2 billion e-Customs project to be financed by the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and managed by Huawei Technologies Limited under a 20-year concession window, when fully implemented, will quadruple Customs’ current N210 billion average monthly revenue collection” Ali declared.

The agents who allegedly executed the disputed concession agreement are the Nigeria Customs Service, Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Nigeria Limited and African Finance Corporation.

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Customs

Apapa Customs frustrates covert attempt to exit illicit drugs from port

—–intercepts 300 cartons of tramadol in separate seizures
Eyewitness reporter
Deploying intelligence through credible information and collaboration with other government agencies, the Apapa Customs of the Nigeria Customs Service has intercepted a cache of illicit drugs in two separate seizures.
On Thursday, the command showcased 150 cartons of tramadol containing 4,500,000 tablets worth about N3.7bn.
100 cartons of these illicit drugs were interdicted in Jaelith bonded terminal while the 50 other cartons were uncovered at ESS Libra terminal, Ikorodu.
However, on Friday, the command, under the leadership of Comptroller Ibrahim Malanta Yusuf, showcased a similar seizure of 150 cartons of tramadol.
According to Comptroller Yusuf, the illicit drugs were laden in a 1x 20 container marked PCIU 0183241 which was declared as Static Converter and Switches.
Addressing journalists Friday at the APMT where the seizure was made, Comptroller Yusuf declared that the command received credible intelligence and the container movement was tracked, traced from the port of loading in Singapore through Hong Kong and China before it was intercepted at Apapa port, the port of destination, having passed through about four ports to cover its track.
Yusuf said that, when the container was offloaded at the APMT, the officers immediately ordered its dropping for examination before the importer could transit the offensive consignment.
“On examination of the container, there are 69 cartons of 250 mg tramadol and 81 250 cartons of tramadol.
Each of the cartons contains 72 rolls, each roll contains 10 packets, each packet contains 10 sachets while each sachet contains 10 tablets”, CAC said.
Comptroller Yusuf warned that Apapa Command is not a safe haven for the importation of illicit drugs as intelligence officers will continue to intercept such uncustoms goods.
He revealed that the command has a robust inter-agency collaboration with other government agencies and the closely- knitted bond among them has been solid, producing spectacular seizure results.
“We shall continue to arrest the perpetrators of this illicit trade and bring them to book” the Customs chief stated.
He declared that information to unravel the culprits behind the illicit consignment is ongoing.
“We have a bill of laden which is a cardinal point that there is a declaration and that is why we are able to trace and intercept this illicit consignment.
An investigation is going on and our searchlight is on the description of the consignee on the bill of laden” Comptroller Yusuf stated.
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Customs

20 containers of gold, silver ore stolen within Customs control in biggest heist operation.

Eyewitness reporter with agency report

The Mexican Customs Authority has announced the biggest heist in the history of the port when 20 containers laden with expensive gold, silver Ore and television disappeared from a freight yard within the Mexican Customs control.

According to the Head of Mexican Customs, Horacio Duarte, thieves stole the shipping containers this month from a freight yard in what was described as an organised crime.

Horacio Duarte told the Associated Press that the theft was the result of “a very serious organized crime operation.”
The region, known as the state of Colima, is dominated by the Jalisco Cartel, a semi-militarized group of criminals that is led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, a drug trafficker who is known as the most-wanted man in Mexico, as well as one of the most-wanted in the US.
The Mexican Employers Federation and Mexico Customs Regulations did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

The theft took place earlier this month but was not reported until Monday.Local newspaper, El Pais, reported that over a dozen fully-armed thieves broke into a private freight yard near a port in Manzanillo, dubbing it the “biggest heist’ in the port’s history.

The thieves reportedly gagged the guards at the yard and took eight hours to pick out the high-value shipping containers.

El Pais reported that the men knew how to use the cranes and other gear at the location and connected the containers to several trucks before driving away.

“It is unprecedented, there had been no robbery of this nature before this,” Gustavo Adrin Joya, a spokesperson for the security department of Colima state, said in a statement to El Pais.

The goods have not been seen since then, the local newspaper reported.

Jos Medina Mora, President of the Mexican Employers Federation, told Associated Press the theft is a sign that safety concerns in the nation are growing.

El Pais reported that the port is a main thoroughfare for the cartel, especially for unloading synthetic drugs that are made in Mexico and sold in the US.

While freight theft is not uncommon, it is unusual for dozens of containers to be stolen at once.

 CargoNet’s Vice President of operations, Keith Lewis, told Insider freight yards can be a vulnerable place for high-value goods.

“A shipment is most vulnerable anytime it is parked,” Lewis said.

In 2020, cargo theft hit a record in the US as hundreds of thousands of shipping containers flooded ports and nearby shipping yards amid the supply-chain crisis.

Lewis said that multi-million dollar shipments like containers full of semiconductor chips or television sets are often fitted with security devices in the US, including covert trackers and specialty locks to deter thieves.

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