FG Urged to Direct Automation of Invoicing, Payments at Ports

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Eromosele Abiodun

Following the hardship faced in clearing cargoes during the total lockdown ordered by the federal government to halt the spread of COVID-19, customs agents in the country have called on the federal government to order all the terminal operators, shipping companies and some relevant government agencies to automate all their processes and make them interactive, such that all transactions by cargo interests can be done online.

The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) stated this in an open letter to the federal government titled: “The several man-made and sustained afflictions of the Nigerian port system, their effects on ease of doing business, trade facilitation and escalation of cost of business transactions.”

ANLCA in the letter signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Adumaza Joe Sanni, stated: “Whilst the ports were open for business during the lockdown, other stakeholders who cannot get to the ports due to restriction of persons and vehicular movements order, could have carried out their transactions online.

“This way, all stakeholders stay out of harm, stay safe and obey government’s directives on COVID-19, avoiding human contacts in physical/social distancing rule and also ensures that the imminent congestion in the ports never occurs.”

The agents also decried the lack of data gathering, collation and analysis for projecting port variables at the nation’s seaports across the country.

They added: “Times without number, proposals have been made for a set up to collect data, collate the data, analyse it and make results available to the public to dissect to make informed decisions or analysis. One cannot understand why it is so difficult to approach the nagging problem and solve it.

“Data is required gathered on imports’ country of origin, commodity freighted, means of carriage, weight, commodity code, Duty paid, DN paid, exemptions, prohibited items, contraventions, etc.”

“We would like to suggest that the presidency should send an executive bill to the National Assembly to establish a Data Gathering Commission specifically for the maritime industry with bias for cargo movements in the ports and border stations. This, on the long run, will provide a basis for making projections, with or without a Force Majeure. Data collected and documented must be shared among stakeholders’ in the industry and the public periodically,” the agents added.

They called on the federal government to ensure the enforcement of Presidential Executive Order No.1 on port operations.

The agents added that the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), in conjunction with the ports advocacy groups/associations must collaborate to ease out all government agencies not captured in the Executive Order 1 from the ports, particularly Quarantine, Standards Organisation of Nigeria and NDLEA.
“As the directive further requires, the lead agency in the ports- Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)– will have to invite relevant agencies to the Ports, when their attention is needed.

“Barred government agencies still operate within the ports without clear cut mandate on operations. For example, SON, NDLEA, and Quarantine- they all still partake in physical examinations, especially at the Seaports, to the extent of blocking already exited cargoes by Customs, through collaborating terminal operators from delivery. This is despite the fact that consignees have paid terminal operators’ statutory storage and other charges, including services charge to SON,” they stated.

They added: “Ask why terminal operators collaborate with especially quarantine services to assist in blocking cargoes exit? Terminal operators’ points to intimidation and resort to arm-twisting tactics, aren’t the terminal operators afraid of possible litigation in the future, to claims of damages for delays?

“Why has the terminal operators not advised especially Quarantine, SSS, SON, NDLEA, etc to channel their requests to block cargoes through Nigeria Customs, to stop releasing cargoes with discrepancies related to their mandate? Mum, till date is the answer. May be some persons charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance are benefiting from the presence of these agencies in the ports.”