By DAPO OLAWUNI
Allegations of high-handedness is currently trailing the Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service over activities of its Compliance Team, a brainchild of the Customs Area Comptroller, Compt Musa Baba Abdulahi.
The compliance team which was created by the Area Controller in 2019 was designed to arrest infractions in duty payments by importers and clearing agents before they escape the system.
However, speaking with DAILY TREND NEWS, customs brokers and freight forwarders raised alarm that the team is now strangulating both compliant and non compliant stakeholders, and have also taken over the job of Customs valuation unit.
The customs agents who spoke under anonymity for fear of victimisation said they now prefer to go and obtain fake valuation after which they settle their way out through the compliance team.
Speaking, a highly placed source at the command told our correspondent that the top echelon of the valuation department are currently disenchanted as their job has been taken over by the CAC and his compliance team.
On the modus operandi of the team, he alleged that “When you obtain valuation now, before your document gets to where you want to release, the team have already issued you a Debit Note (DN) wanting you to come and negotiate”
“The major challenge we have right now is that the compliance team which was established by the Area Controller is strangulation people, they are not doing what they are created to do, what they ought to be doing is to pinpoint to the Controller on any infraction”
“What these boys are doing now is victimisation, anytime you have cargo to clear, you must first go and settle them, if you refuse to bribe them, they would place an intervention on your cargo”
“The Area Controller is even at a loss right now.
The valuation department of Tin Can Island command have lost their relevance because whenever they issue value on cargoes it doesn’t hold water, the compliance team are now the ones giving DN to agents”
“Which should we now follow? This is duplication of duty”
Chairmen of various freight forwarding associations including ANLCA and NAGAFF have been alleged to be benefiting from the ongoing corruption through their romance with the CAC.
A top member of ANLCA alleged that the executives have compromised because they refused to come forward and address these challenges because they are benefitting from it.
Speaking further, the source said “The compliance team was created because of importers doing bad jobs, basically for daredevil importers who would not comply”
“The command is segmented into three;
The compliance team is supposed to be dealing with the non compliant agents and in some cases give DN to those near compliance in order to regulate the business. But now, the compliance boys are now dealing with everybody” he said
Also speaking with our correspondent, another member of NAGAFF at Tin Can urged the Customs headquarters to come forward and address the duplication of duties.
He alleged that the CAC compliance team was issuing DN indiscriminately and the CAC was aware, but that he has vowed to meet his revenue target by all means, not minding the danger to trade facilitation.
According to him, the compliance team is made up of young officers, mostly with low ranks, they were recruited by the CAC for the job.
The officers are now going out of line, and implementing what they were not sent to do.
“The operation of the compliance team has been going on since last year when the team was still headed by one Mahmud Ibrahim”
“They have taken over the job of the valuation unit. Ibrahim has now been transferred to Onne Port.
Even the officers at the valuation department are grumbling, they are not happy because their job has been taken over, they no longer see money like before” he said
However, the command has debunked these allegations, saying that the compliance team since its establishment have reduced to the barest minimum, the rot perpetuated by the importers with their agents and their Customs collaborators.
Spokeman of the command, Mr Uche Ejesieme said the clearing agents and importers making such spurious allegations are disenchanted because
all loopholes they normally exploit to circumvent duty payments have been blocked.
In the past, he said Tin Can Island Port was notorious for all manner of infractions, but when the CAC, Compt Musa Abdulahi came in, it became expedient to put measures in place to ensure checks and balances.
The customs spokesman added that the compliance team is one of the building blocks of World Customs Organization (WCO) which directed customs administrations all over the world to put modalities in place and monitor compliance to fiscal policies.
According to him “Alerts from the compliance team comes when a consignment is almost trying to escape the watch of other units, when the alerts come earlier than usual, it simply means that the CAC is in the position of an intelligence report which he hands over to the compliance team for investigation”
“The agents making these allegations do not understand why the team was created”
Ejesieme urged anyone with genuine challenges to approach the Dispute Resolution Team of the command with their documents and make formal complaints.
“Once we see that the complaints are genuine, we solve them with dispatch, right up till now, none of them have come forward with specific cases”
“It is not possible for the compliance team to take over the job of the valuation unit. If the team discovered that a particular consignment has discrepancy in value, what they normally do is call the attention of the valuation unit”
“Some of the agents always want to falsify the ex-factory price in order to pay lower duty, right now, we have a system in place to nip such fake declarations in the bud”
“We have records to prove that, for the past two years that we have introduced the compliance team, it has helped in improving our revenue by blocking areas of leakages”
“What the officers do is risk profiling and Cargo selectivity, most of them are IT savvy officers and what they do is put the system on check.
In terms of classification, some agents would want to take their consignment on 5% even though its supposed to be 30%, no Command would fold its hand and allow such to continue” he said
The spokesman told DAILY TREND NEWS that the Customs Comptroller has explained severally and held several meetings with stakeholders to stress the need for compliance.
Recall that the Area Comptroller had last year categorized the importers into three segments.
Importers in the first segment were those that can take delivery of their cargoes from the port immediately upon arrival because they have been known to be very trade compliant.
This group of traders can move their cargoes to their warehouses where the value will be calculated after which duty can be paid.
Those in the second category were importers who have issues with their documentations but are prepared to correct the infractions and ready to pay whatever difference there is to be paid.
The last category of traders, according to the new system, are known to be non-compliant and would do everything to short-change the system.
The Comptroller was said to have mandated the Compliance team members to ensure that importers on the Compliance list take delivery of their cargoes with ease in the spirit of trade facilitation.