Transport Minister, Idris Umar
Importers and freight forwarders in Lagos ports are lamenting rising economic losses due to demurrage on their consignments as a result of the delay in scanning their goods by Destination Inspection Agents (DIAs). They are calling for physical examination of the items to fast-track goods delivery at the ports, as against the argument that it is prone to insider abuse and security risk, reports Francis Ugwoke
About 55 days after the Destination Inspection Agents (DIAs) got their contract extended by six months, importers and their freight forwarders are lobbyling relevant authorities, particularly the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to allow their containers undergo physical examination as against the current risk management system in which scanning is involved. This is however because of delays being experienced in the scanning process. The delay in the scanning process usually results to huge losses for importers as a result of demurrage paid to terminal operators and shipping companies. Under the risk management profile, containers that will go through green lane do not require scanning. However containers under yellow lane will have to be scanned, while those on red lane are to be examined physically. THISDAY checks at the ports and border stations revealed that because of the delay in the scanning process, importers and freight forwarders whose containers are billed for scanning now want to ‘re-route’ them to red lane so that they can go through physical examination. This is to make goods delivery faster and to cut all the losses being accumulated as a result of demurrage.
Our Nightmare, by freight forwarders
Freight Forwarders who spoke to THISDAY at the Lagos ports on their experience said that those who have bulk containers of between 150 to 200 containers have been going through so much difficulties to have them scanned at the Lagos ports. At Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, it was gathered that the scanners cannot carry the work load as hundreds of containers are scanned on daily basis. Freight forwarders say that between 500 and 600 containers are presented for scanning each day, adding that the DIAs carrying out these services can only scan about 100 on daily basis, a situation which according to them has led to demurrage. They also said that there is growing congestion at the ports as a result of the number of containers lying up for scanning. It was also gathered that many containers after undergoing scanning also go through physical examination based on suspicion on such containers.
Call for Re-routing of Containers
Worried about the delay in the scanning of the containers, importers and their freight forwarders are calling for re-routing of the containers meant for scanning for physical examination. According to freight forwarders, this will make the delivery of cargo faster and save importers the problem of paying demurrage on the containers.
A freight forwarder, Chief Dom Ojekere who spoke to THISDAY at Apapa port said that the Customs should allow monitored re-routing of containers for physical examination. Waiting for scanning process, he said, has remained a huge loss of time and economic waste.
He called on the Customs management to save the importers of the money paid on demurrage and the ports from growing congestion by allowing voluntary physical examination at the ports.
Defence by DIAs
Among the companies that provide scanning services at the ports and border stations are SGS, Global Scan and Cotecna. A top official of Cotecna who did not want to be quoted denied that the company does not have the capacity for the number of containers being presented on daily basis for scanning. He told THISDAY “there is no delay in scanning containers at the port. I don’t think so. From our records the least we have done in a day is 190 containers. From our record, we scan between 200 to 238 containers on daily basis”, he said.
Dangers of Re-routing, by DIAs
In the DIAs circle, there is a lot of negative implication of re-routing containers meant for scanning for physical examination. A top official who also pleaded anonymity said that it can be manipulated by Customs officers on the influence of unscrupulous importers and agents. Besides, he argued that this is against the objectives of introducing the scanning policy in the first place. He said that goods which go through physical examination are by nature not thoroughly examined. He argued that in most cases, what the examination officers do is to drop few items on the ground and depend on the findings on these items, believing that the rest of the items in the containers are okay.
He explained that the reason for scanning is that the scanners are able to pick prohibited items, particularly security risk items. Speaking on the same issue, a customs agent, Mr Tony Okere said that the issue of abuse can be handled by the Customs. Okere said that this remains a problem for the Customs to address, adding that it is part of the corruption in the system. He revealed that in some border stations, including Idiroko, Seme and Jibiya and off- dock terminals, effective use of hydro fixed scanners is not observed.
What Customs Officers Say
When contacted, a senior customs officer in Apapa said that the command has observed the problems being faced by importers, it cannot change the system as it is a Federal Government policy for some containers to be scanned under the risk management profile. He identified the problem of lack of enough scanning equipment as an issue that the DIAs have to address. “Our hands are tied… we want the DIAs to do their job and do it well… we shall co-operate with them to avoid mis-interpretation by stakeholders…. They lack enough equipment,… but it is not for us to say so…”, he told THISDAY under anonymity. The official who said that the policy of re-routing was not a bad idea, however, maintained that such directive can only come from the Comptroller-General of Customs.
How to Address Shortage of Scanners, by Stakeholders
Stakeholders in the ports industry told THISDAY that the only way to address the problem of shortage of scanners and save importers the delay is to throw the provision of scanners to more private operators under a joint venture arrangement. A transport consultant and freight forwarder, Chief Leo Ogamba said that as far as he is concerned the scanning system is being sabotaged by those who should encourage it. He said that those who do this, including some officers of the Customs prefer physical examination for obvious reasons.
He added that physical examination is referred because scanning is expensive as a result of delay and demurrage involved. Ogamba also pointed out that one other factor responsible for the delay in the scanning process is that there is lack of sufficient space in the ports for scanning. He said that this problem can be addressed by scanning the containers as they are being offloaded from the ship and the record is kept. He said that with this, containers that have discrepancies can be referred to physical examination and not queue for scanning. “if this is done, there will be desired result, but this will not be allowed because of corruption”, he said.