By Samson Echenim
Despite its demerits of allowing certain trade malpractices, more multinational companies are now enjoying the fast track cargo clearance system in Nigerian seaports.
The fast track system allows the multinational companies and large Nigerian firms to take their imported goods from the seaport to their warehouse without Customs check. Customs officers are later dispatched to such warehouses to do the inspection and raise debit notes for tariffs considered appropriate.
The system has allowed importation of banned goods and drugs. For instance, in October 2016, 200 parcels of cocaine were found by Customs officials inside one of the containers of one of such multinational companies, which imported building materials through the Tin Can Port in Lagos. Nothing has been heard of the event till date, after the company denied importing the drug and pointed accusing fingers at the shipping agent who was not mentioned.
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On assumption of office, the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, a retired military colonel, had questioned the fast track system and stopped it. The system however, was reinstated to ease release of cargoes from the ever-congested seaports.
business a.m gathered that ports in Lagos have now segmented their importers into three categories, with the first segment filled by multinationals, which enjoy the fast tract cargo clearance system. The multinationals are heavy importers such as breweries, beverage makers and companies in the fast moving consumer goods sector (FMCG), whose goods need to leave the seaport as soon as they arrive, to create space for other goods and avoid congestion.
The second segment, according a Customs source, is filled by importers who have genuine excuses for not meeting up with trade benchmarks. The source however, did not detail how the intention of such importers are known.
The third category, which the customs source said are just about five percent of the importers are those who want to beat the rules. They are the non-compliant importers, who intentionally flout trade rules as required by the Customs Excise Management Act and other trade regulations, which importers are expected to abide by.
“The multinational companies are given fast track clearance as compliant traders. There is a standing order at Tin Can Port today that the if big names, such as Cadbury, Coca Cola, Nestlé and others, have a shipment at the port, it is taken by fast track. If the Customs found out later that they have underpaid in any way, the post-clearance audit section is there to address the underpayment. They can always go back to them and give them a debit note for additional payments. They are not running away,” said Segun Oduntan, chairman, Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents.
“The second category are the people who would want to be compliant but for some reasons, maybe due to lack of knowledge, they will go back and compete their documentation. There is a third segment which contain those who would not want to do anything the proper way. Such people are in the minority, about five percent of the importers,” he added.
He advised clearing agents with genuine complaints to approach the chapter and provide documentary evidence with which their case can be pursued.
“If they cannot provide this, it means they belong to the third category,” he said.
Uche Ejisieme, public relations officer, Tin Can Port Customs Command, said the command was trying to “rejig and fine-tune” its operational modalities in such a way that compliant importers are treated “expeditiously in the clearance process.”
“Further to this, is our renewed commitment in ensuring that fast track beneficiaries are treated with dispatch in the value chain,” he said.
He further explained, “The command took cognisance of three distinct categories of traders: those that are ever ready to comply with the extant law as it relates to trade; those that are willing but sometimes are indeterminate; and those who are out-rightly adamant with penchant for circumventing the fiscal policies.
“Our focus is on the second category of traders. For the second category, we will continue to engage them through sensitisation for them to see the need for compliance. For the third category, we will continue to decimate their criminal content as appropriate.”