Furore over NESREA Import Clearance Initiative

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Jonathan Eze, after sampling industrialists opinion on the furore generated by a recent advert by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), writes that the agency has no business with import clearance permit.

Inter-governmental agencies are not expected to work at cross purpose or have clashes in the performance of their statutory responsibilities. Inter-agency co-operation, collaboration and understanding is supposed to be at play rather than boundary issues and problems. However, there appears to be much overlapping and scrambling for roles which are not meant to be. The rivalries and veiled confrontations by some government agencies appear to defeat the purpose for their establishment in the first place.

The country’s economic outlook and performance can be better when federal government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) actually work according to the rules.. In highly performing economies, government agencies know their briefs or mandate and keep to them without any attempt to interfere or encroach on other bodies statutory responsibilities. By so doing, businesses, industries and commercial activities experience smooth and steady growth.

Industry watchers have expressed disgust concerning the recent move by one of the federal government’s agencies known as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) trying to take over one major statutory mandate of other federal agencies, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).

In a recent online advertisement, NESREA appealed to importers to obtain its newly formulated Environmental Clearance permit which according to it, would now replace SONCAP certificate usually administered and issued by SON and NAFDAC import permit. The development, according to industry watchers, is nothing but a clear confrontation by NESREA against the two sister-agencies of the federal government

Going by the NESREA functions, its responsibility as enshrined in NESREA Act is mainly protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of enforcement of environmental standards, regulations, rules, laws, policies and guidelines.

Some other functions of the Agency are to: enforce compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters; coordinate and liaise with, stakeholders, within and outside Nigeria on matters of environmental standards, regulations and enforcement; enforce compliance with the provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment including climate change, biodiversity conservation, desertification, forestry, oil and gas, chemicals, hazardous wastes, ozone depletion, marine and wild life, pollution, sanitation and such other environmental agreements as may from time to time come into force; enforce compliance with policies, standards, legislation and guidelines on water quality, Environmental Health and Sanitation, including pollution abatement; enforce compliance with guidelines, and legislation on sustainable management of the ecosystem, biodiversity conservation and the development of Nigeria’s natural resources among others.

For NESREA requesting importers to apply for the agency’s permit for clearing of products negates the spirit of Federal Government’s ease of doing business mantra.

According to the online report the safety of the products are not even given consideration.

More importantly, it is another way to tax consumers and manufacturers. The NESREA procedure only requires the importers to send the agency’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) along with application to get a permit. This allows for serious loopholes in the entire system. The MSDS given by the importer could have been doctored which would invariably increase the level of unwholesome products in circulation across the country.

Furthermore, there is no value addition to what SON and NAFDAC have already tested with their accredited agents and accredited laboratories in Nigeria. To them, NESREA should focus on the huge volume of e-waste that is flooding the Nigerian market.

Countries like Rwanda are strongly against importation of second handed goods. NESREA should therefore save its energy and direct it to such areas like increasing duplication of roles by MDAs at the nation’s ports, analysts further averred.

“What does NESREA want? Is it to make money or what by rudely and unconscionably intruding into the jurisdiction of another agency? NESREA perhaps want to make revenue for itself given that the advert portrayed its own process or permit as cheaper than SONCAP’’.

‘‘ The irony about NESREA clearance permit is that the same certificate is used to obtain Form M unlike the SON certification where you are required to get PC ( product certificate) first and later get SONCAP after getting Form M. Again, no certificate validation required for NESREA. Go straight; use your permit to apply for Form M and subsequently

Furthermore, there is no value addition to what SON and NAFDAC have already tested with their accredited agents and accredited laboratories in Nigeria. The bottom line is to collect money and create a safe haven for unscrupulous importers to falsify the import documentation by dealing it as NESREA imported goods. To them, NESREA should focus on the huge volume of e-waste that is flooding the Nigerian market.

Countries like Rwanda are strongly against importation of second handed goods. NESREA should therefore save its energy and direct it to such areas like increasing duplication of roles by MDAs at the nation’s ports, analysts further averred.

It is so regrettable especially at a time when the federal government is focusing more attention on non-oil exports and export promotion drive for certain agencies to be thinking of flooding the country with imports. Speaking with THISDAY on this development, an Enviromental Consultant and an Industrialist, Mr. Kingsley Okoh, said that NESREA cannot even do what it is saying it can do in the import business. “The agency has no facilities, expertise or skills to conduct due diligence certification and grant permit to prospective importers.

“It therefore appears to be so absurd for NESREA to carry out what it has not been created to do or has no capacity to execute. The ministry or minister in charge of the agency should therefore call NESREA and those at its helm of affairs to order before the federal government becomes so highly embarrassed by the latest initiative,

In the same vein, Mr. Famikade Famiroti, a member of the Manufacturers Association of Nigerian (MAN), said government agencies are indeed over-burdening the economy and exploiting operators and businessmen through duplicity, duplication and over-regulation including taxes and fees for their services.

He wondered why NESREA should suddenly wake up and come out with such unwholesome policy when there is already another agency that is fully in charge officially and handling the processes seamlessly.

“We gathered that to clear items in the country, importers are required by law to have for every consignment of regulated products by NAFDAC to go through the standards duly specified by NAFADC while SON Product Certificate (PC) and SONCAP Certificate (SC) issued by SON approved inspection agencies like Intertek, SGS and Contecna are also required. These independent accredited firms (IAFs) are time-tested international technical partners which have the expertise and technical capacities and competencies to handle the processes. The SON PC is used to open the Form M while the SC is for raising the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) for clearance of the imported items. Again, both the PC/SC are processed and obtained by exporters in the country of supply of goods following laid down compliance guidelines.

All products imported into the country (Nigeria) are regulated under the SONCAP programme administered by SON which also issues Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP) certificate for all regulated exports. For industry watchers, government regulatory agencies should fast-track the administration’s ease of doing business mantra; they should totally avoid over-regulation which in turn stifles businesses.

Analysts also say that agencies should champion the federal government’s economic diversification policy, patronise/buy Made-in- Nigeria campaign, MSMEs focus laboratories, Ease of Doing Business policy, among others, rather than create curious avenues to make money from operators. Furthermore, the attendant damages associated with sub-standard imported products in the country should be checked through effective regulatory framework and not what NESREA wants to do to compound the situation. Proving the requisite standards and quality benchmarks as well as acceptable certifications for non-oil products towards self-sufficiency, job creation, industrialization, exports and increased foreign exchange earnings, among others, should be the concern of MDAs. Therefore, the need for collaborations and synergising among sister-agencies should be the way forward if they are to grow the economy, experts maintained.