Comptroller General of Customs, Dikko Abdullahi
Stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have lambasted the Federal Government for extending the contract of the three service providers in the nation’s seaports, airports and international borders beyond December 31, 2012.
The three service providers' contracts were extended vide a letter dated December 31, 2012 and signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Danladi Kifasi.
In 2005, the three service providers, namely Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited (CDIL), SGS Nigeria Limited and Global Scansystems, were awarded a seven-year contract that commenced in January 2006 to supply cargo scanning machines on a build, own, operate and transfer basis (BOOT) as well as train Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officers on risk management, valuation and classification.
The letter, with reference F10361/S.56/VA/491 and sent to the three service providers, read inter alia: “I wish to inform you that the President has approved the extension of the Agreement dated January 1, 2006, between your company and the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) for the Provision, Installation, Operation and Management of X-ray Scanning Equipment and Software for Inspection of goods. The agreement which is to expire on December 31, 2012 has been extended for a period of six months with effect from 1st January, 2013”.
Kifasi directed the service providers to liaise with the Legal Unit of the Ministry of Finance "for the preparation and execution of the new agreement within one week of the date of this offer", even as he indicated that the service providers' lots would be given a fresh look.
"Details of the new allocation of LOTS will be conveyed in a few days time. Meanwhile you are expected to operate within the current allocation", the letter, sighted by THISDAY, added.
However, the umbrella body of licensed customs agents, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has kicked against the extension of the contract. The body made its opposition to the extension of the contract known through its National President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, who said "it is unfortunate that government will tow this path".
According to Shittu, the extension was a clear indication of what he described as government's “lack of seriousness about capacity development” in the maritime sector of the economy.
The extension of the contract was however a surprise to some stakeholders who saw it coming since last year. They had expressed concern over the preparedness of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to take over the destination inspection (DI) scheme and effectively operate the scanning machines.
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Global Scansystems, Mr. Fred Udechukwu, last month in Lagos, while seeking an extension of the service providers' contract, posited that the personnel of the NCS were not fully equipped to operate and maintain very complex equipment, such as scanners, which require a lot of expertise and discipline, in order to make the impending handover of the project to the Customs worthwhile.
Udechukwu barred his mind in a paper titled Destination Inspection: Which way after December 2012 Global Scansystems Limited's Perspective at a one-day seminar organised by the Maritime Reporters' Association of Nigeria (MARAN) in Apapa, Lagos.
Udechukwu, who was represented by the company's Operations Manager, Mr. Kenneth Ogbogu, stated that there is "a serious skill gap in the Nigeria Customs Service," hence hindering its ability to take over the scanners at the end of this year.
“The officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service 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 skill gap in the Nigeria Customs Service; 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 the service," the Global Scansystems boss 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.
The Global Scansystems boss also lamented what he called the gross under-utilisation of all scanners, which, according to him, is below five percent. He said that cessation of the DI contract with service providers will lead to job losses, disclosing that no fewer than 200 Nigerians currently employed by his company will lose their jobs.
He urged the Federal Government to extend the contract of the service providers for the success of the destination inspection scheme.
Comptroller General of Customs, Dikko Abdullahi, however faulted Udechukwu as he posited in Katsina last November that his men were ready to take over implementation of the DI scheme.
It was also learnt that the federal government extended the contract period because it was unconvinced at the readiness of men and officers of NCS to implement the DI scheme all by itself.
According to a source who did not want to be quoted, “The Minister of Finance is particularly concerned about the maintenance of those scanners”.