A retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs (ACG), Mrs. Kofo Olugbesan, has picked holes in the opposition against Customs new bill presently before the National Assembly.
The position of the retired top Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officer followed the recent public hearing on the new bill, which attracted many stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy, among other key players in the economy.
The Ministry of Finance had, in a position presented at the venue of the hearing at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, said the powers given to the Customs High Command were not only enormous but also eroding the power of Mr. President and Ministry in the running of NCS.
However, in a chat with journalists in her office in Apapa, Lagos, Olugbesan noted that those who suggested that the entire bill be thrown out failed to support their position with any strong reason.
She praised the National Assembly for its resolve to take a critical look at the bill during its recent public hearing on bill despite the opposition against it by some stakeholders, particularly the Federal Ministry of Finance, and noted that the National Assembly did well for not throwing away the baby with the bath water.
According to her, “you do not throw away the baby with the bath water. In fact, Customs should be encouraged on issues relating to contracts and obligations to enter into contractual agreements themselves, since they are readily at home with their operational needs.”
The retired Customs Chief argued that NCS, as an arm of the Federal Ministry of Finance, was subject to the powers of the NCS Board which is chaired by the Minister of Finance; hence the NCS should be legally free to enter into contractual agreements through its board, rather than through the Ministry of Finance which may also desire to contract independently, for NCS with a risk of making genuine mistakes.
Her words: “An example is the single window contract that was aborted by the intervention of the National Assembly. Those who insisted that the service should remain without a stronger platform might probably be doing so for other motives.
“It is not true that the powers of the President have been eroded by the new bill as posited by the Minister of Finance. As explained in legal parlance, the donee’s power is not superior to that of the donor. However, with regards to the Deputy Comptroller Generals (DCGs), the five DCGs should be maintained on the board since they head different units and as such, would need to report to the board on the unit’s activities. The Minister of Finance’s stance that they are too many does not hold water.
"Besides, in relation to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), 10 CBN staff out of 12 members sits on the board which the Minister of Finance justified during the CBN public hearing. If that is in place, five Deputy Comptroller Generals out of 16 members sitting on the board should not be seen as excess, given the fact that they are serving a vital interest to other board members as they duly represent their units. Given their effectiveness to the board thereof, their number should not be seen as out of order, as they serve as the eye of the board in their respective units.
"Above all, the Nigeria Customs Service is an institution under the Ministry of Finance and as such, the Minister of Finance by virtue of her position is the Chairman of the Nigeria Customs Service Board, thus bringing the administration of Customs under Ministry of Finance”, Olugbesan added.
"I am of the opinion that the 7 per cent of the collectable duty as the current funding policy for Nigeria Customs is inadequate because after salaries have been catered for, what is left is inadequate for capital project. I will thus support the 2.5 per cent of the Free on Board (FOB) value of imports as it will help boost the capital reserve of Nigeria Customs for other expedient activities", she said.
She decried a situation where virtually everyone who spoke on the issue showed interest towards wanting to be on the board which was a misnomer.
She lauded the Customs management on its initiative in the use of information technology, especially as an interface between traders and other small scale owners who were not conversant with information technology for e-transaction with the service.
The retired Customs Chief also flayed the current penalty regime, emphasising the expediency of specifying a fixed amount, in tandem with the view of the Budget Office, at the hearing, to ensure transparency; even though experience showed that fixing specific penalty may not be ideal, due to the dynamics in Customs business.
"One of the weaknesses of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) 1958 is the fixing of penalty with specific sum," she noted further, calling attention to the fact that with time, today’s stringent penalties may appear like peanut tomorrow, a development which going by the mindset of the average economic saboteurs, has made present instances where the sum of only a N100 was fixed for an offence involving billions of naira is no longer now perceived as an adequate deterrent”, she said.