By Francis Ugwoke
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Stakeholders in the nation’s maritime industry have continued to express concerns on the specific roles of the contractors or concessionaires who have been awarded $3.1 billion contract for the modernization of the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) .
The contract which was awarded to a foreign firm, Messrs E-Customs HC Project Limited for a period of 20 years, according to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed is to automate customs business in which the Service is to use smart and emerging technologies to enhance the statutory functions of the Customs Service in revenue generation.
But stakeholders have continued to raise questions as to what the beneficiaries of the huge contract will be bringing on the table considering the recent acquisition of three scanners for the Customs by the Ministry of Finance.
The Ministry is also to acquire four more scanners for the Customs very soon according to the Ministry of Finance.
A concerned freight forwarder and former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke who spoke to SHIPPING DAY asked, “what is the essence E-Customs Modernisation Concession in specific terms, what are the Consortiums bringing on the contract table in terms of infrastructure?”.
Nweke said the questions have become imperative in view of the scanners being acquired for the Customs by the government, adding that ordinarily the contract terms ought to have covered such technologies under automation programme.
Nweke argued that the Ministry of Finance cannot rush to acquire scanners for the Customs while on the other hand there is the arrangement for the e-customs modernisation concession processes.
He argued that this was because the acquisition of scanners should be an integral component of e-customs modernization process.
He told SHIPPING DAY , “Take a look at the concession awards. If you are awarding a concession of this nature, it is expected that the concessionaire will be bringing on the contract table a more sophisticated wares and tools opposed to what is on ground which had hindered the smooth flow and timely processing of cargo out of the Customs ports, hence, the need for alternate solutions by way of e-customs modernisation concession processes. Scanning operations or acquisition of scanner is an integral component of e-customs modernization process. So how come the Customs rushed into acquisitions of scanner in one hand and concessioning it’s e-customs operations in the other hand”
He said that the move by the federal government to acquire scanners for the Customs was “typical of unstructured or unbalanced concession arrangement made in haste”.
Nweke referred to the port concession and the obligation of the concessionaires or terminal operators who have the responsibility to acquire new sets of cranes and cargo handling equipments.
He added that the concessionaires under the agreement are to maintain the equipment all through the contract/concession periods.
Beyond this, he pointed out that the agreement states that the terminal Operators will digitalise and automate its cargo handling process.
Condemning the action of the federal government in the current acquisition of scanners for the customs with the concession arrangement, he added that stakeholders were waiting for the Customs to make public a review contract performance reports of the Web Fontane whose contracts for the modernization of the Customs e-platforms dated back over 20 years ago?.
It would be recalled that the Chairman of House Committee on Public Petitions, Jerry Alagbaoso had in a motion 2019 called for investigation of the Customs modernisation deal.
Similarly, a former Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Haman Bello had also last year said Nigerians should demand the details of the customs modernization contract.
He was quoted saying, “Are the concessionaires bringing in their equipment, install them and train Customs to carry out their statutory responsibilities or are they the ones that will collect duty for the government?”
The Vice President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto, also last year demand for a review of the modernisation contract, wondering what the concessionaire was bringing on the table with the contract awarded for the purchase of scanning machines.
Kayode had told newsmen, “I have said this several times that we are having a situation whereby we may be mortgaging our future through the back door. The so-called contract is shrouded in secrecy, we don’t know the details of the MoU, the only thing we heard is that the contract is going to last for 20years, this is not ideal. Even if there is going to be a contract like that, it ought to be for three to four years for a start, and with a proviso that if you do not deliver, the contract would be terminated, but now that you have issued a contract for 20 years, somebody is playing foul play.
“The contract is shrouded in secrecy and as Nigerians, we need to know the details, and, as a stakeholder, we need to know what is embedded in the contract. We would not just say because FEC approved it, then it is okay. The problem with our government is that they carry out decisions without stakeholders’ inputs, and this is why they don’t succeed. The contract must be reviewed.”
Our Correspondent who spoke to a senior Customs Officer on the issue was told that it was better to direct such questions to the Ministry of Finance.