Ports Service Providers: Fear Heightens over Customs Capacity

23 Nov 2012

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Apapa  ports

The scanning of goods imported into the country through the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders may be jeopardised as from January 1, 2013, as the capacity of men and officers of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to fully take charge of the scanners have been questioned.

Three service providers under the destination inspection (DI) scheme were given a seven-year mandate under a build, operate, own and transfer (BOOT) contract with the Federal Government to man the scanners at the nation’s seaports, airports, and international borders.

According to the provisions of the agreement signed between the Federal Government and the three service providers, the contract will lapse on December 31, 2012. The three service providers, namely, Messrs Global Scansystems Limited, Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited (CDIL) and SGS Scanners Limited were given the mandate to man different airports, seaports and international borders.

One of the service providers, Global Scansystems Limited, in a paper presented in Lagos said men and officers of NCOS are not fully equipped to operate and maintain very complex equipment like scanners which requires a lot of expertise and discipline.

The Managing Director and chief executive officer of Global Scansystems Limited, Mr. Fred Udechukwu, stated this in a paper titled ‘Destination Inspection: Which way after December 2012’ at a one day seminar organised by the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN) at the International Maritime Press Centre (IMPC) in Apapa, Lagos.

Udechukwu, who was represented by the company's Operations Manager, Mr. Ogbogu Kenneth, stated that there is "a serious skills gap in the Nigeria Customs Service" hence hindering its ability to take over the scanners at the end of this year when the seven years contract between the Federal Government and the three service providers will terminate.

“The officers and men of the NCS trained to take over from us are not fully equipped to operate and maintain very complex equipment like the scanners which requires a lot of expertise and discipline. This has serious health implications as uncontrolled x-ray dosages can be emitted into the atmosphere. Also, the maintenance of these scanners are programmed and planned to prevent breakdown and its huge financial implications.

“There is a serious skills gap in the NCS. Until recently, they did not show sufficient interest in the DI scheme and training. This will have to be addressed and adequate training given to them both within and outside the country before we can comfortably hand over to them”, he said.
Udechukwu also said that Form M, which is a major transaction document, is not yet in electronic form/setting, claiming that it would take some time to harmonise the e-form M document in the process.

He lamented what he called the gross under-utilisation of all scanners which he said is below five per cent. He said that cessation of the DI contract with service providers would lead to job loss, disclosing that no fewer than 200 Nigerians currently employed by his company would lose their jobs.

He asked the Federal Government to extend the contract of the service providers for the success of the DI scheme.
President of the Maritime Reporters' Association of Nigeria (MARAN), Mr. Bolaji Akinola, had earlier in his address, said that the seminar was organised by MARAN as part of the association's contribution in engendering healthy debate and discussion on critical issues in the maritime industry.

According to him, “cargo dwell time at Nigerian ports is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Only a simplification of processes and procedures as well as automation at the ports can drive down the cargo dwell time.

“I must say that cargo dwell time, which stands at an average of 24 days at Nigerian ports, remains the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The implication of high dwell time of cargo is increased cost of doing business at the ports.

"Corruption and bureaucratic bottlenecks are still preponderant in Nigerian ports and are the major reasons for the high cost of doing business at the ports. There is the need therefore to simplify processes associated with cargo clearance. We also need to increase automation of our processes in order to reduce human contacts.

“Importantly too, there is the need to advise government, using this platform on the option that will work best after 31st December, 2012. We need to come up with a practical option can drive dwell time down to an average of seven days", he said.

The MARAN President said before January 2006, the determination of value as well as quantity of imports into the country had been done at the port of origin of the imports by Pre-shipment Inspection Agents (PIAs) namely Swede Control/Intertek, Cotecna and SGS while the Nigeria Customs Service performed 100 per cent physical examination of imports at destination, a perceived duplication of function of the pre-shipment agents.

The seminar, which was chaired by Chairman of the Port Consultation Council (PCC), Otunba Kunle Folarin, was attended by several stakeholders and port users including service providers, customs agents, importers, customs and truck operators.

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