NCS Comptroller General, Ali, Shuns Vital Hearing on Repeal of Customs Act

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  • Senate expresses displeasure

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

Stakeholders at a one-day public hearing on “A Bill for an Act to Repeal the Customs and Excise Management Act Bill 2016” were shocked yesterday when the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), shunned the move to repeal a 58-year old-Act meant to enhance the efficiency of the agency.

Most shocking and disturbing to both the committee and the leadership of the Senate was that Ali did not only stay away from the public hearing meant to draw the inputs of NCS into the bill, he also opted not to send any NCS official as his representative.

The Senate did not only find the situation offensive but also believed that it was a deliberate attempt by the leadership of NCS to treat the apex legislative institution with contempt.

More contemptuous to the senators was that instead of sending high ranking customs officials to represent him and the institution at the hearing, Ali chose to send agents of the NCS who are not directly affected by the bill being considered.
p was offended by Ali’s action, noting that of the three public hearings which held in the Senate yesterday, it was only the hearing on customs bill that was not attended by major stakeholders.
Thus, the senators wondered what excuse Ali could have for staying away from the hearing when Fashola who heads three vibrant and large ministries and is always very busy as well as banks’ chief executive officers who are equally busy still created time to attend yesterday’s public hearings.

However, in his opening remark, Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs and Excise, Senator Hope Uzodimma, said the National Assembly was determined to amend the Customs and Excise Act to ensure the evolvement “of an effective, efficient and result-oriented department or agency.”

He added that the Senate was also determined to also ensure that the process of revenue collection was strengthened in accordance with best practices, observing that “Customs department of our dear country ought to be a major revenue earner that should be capable of funding at least 50 per cent of the national budget. This should also be a critical department that should boost non-oil revenue of the government and fund infrastructural development.

“Why is our own story different? The answer is simple. For 58 years, our Customs department has operated with a Colonial Act that has not only become obsolete and unrealistic but fraught with many loopholes for revenue leakages. It is not the best thing that has happened to the customs and excise department that to date it has been guided by a 1958 Colonial Act.”

While declaring the public hearing open, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the move to repeal the age-long bill was borne out of Senate’s desire to reposition the NCS with a view to ensuring that the agency “plays the pivotal role it is expected to play as a major funder of the federal budget.”

Saraki further said introducing the bill had become imperative in view of “the very critical role that the custom plays in the economic and security life of our country” adding that “Customs remains one of the most important sources of government revenues.”

He added: “With government revenues dwindling rapidly at a time when we have so much to do, this has further made the need for us to block all leakages and possible inefficiency points in our revenue profile an urgent national duty.

“When the Eight Senate came on board, we promised that we would seek to introduce new laws to improve revenue generation, curb corruption, improve accountability and governance. This bill is one of those bills, which even our private sector has identified as critically important to doing business, and relates significantly to the cost of doing business in general.

“This bill clearly represents a clear message from the Senate that we are ready to do what it takes to empower our revenue agencies to perform their duty to ensure that our country’s economy continues to competitively perform even in the face of dwindling oil market prospects. We are determined and are ready to retool our laws to achieve a more diversified Nigerian economy driven by innovative private sector and efficient government support. The operations of the Customs will be key by injecting transparency and accountability in the revenue systems.”