• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Analysts blame corruption at port on manual clearing process, 100% physical inspection


Manual cargo clearance process and 100 percent physical inspection of containers by officials of both the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other government agencies at the ports have been the major reasons why corruption, including documentation forgery, is prevalent at the ports, analysts say.

According to them, the present administration of the NSC, led by Hameed Ali, which has fight against corruption as top on its agenda, will find it difficult to achieve the set objective, if containers are cleared without using automated system or online clearing process. Online cargo clearance process and scanning of containers, they say, will help remove human contact and physical interaction between NCS officials, importers and their agents.

Findings show that the end cost of a container cleared from Nigerian port is very high compared with ports in other neighbouring countries, and this is engineered by several clearing bottlenecks that result to paying huge demurrage and storage charges to shipping firms and terminal operators as well as giving bribe to officials of government agencies.

“Currently, it is only physical examination of cargo that is carried out in Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports, and this is delaying fast clearance of cargo at port. From September 2014 till date, virtually all containers go through 100 percent physical examination due to the bad state of the machines,” Tony Anakebe, a maritime analyst, said.

Precisely, officials of government agencies involved in examination of cargo, which include NCS, National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and others, indulge in corrupt practices that contribute in making Nigerian ports rank among the most expensive in the world.

Confirming this, Fisayo Soyombo of The Cable news, who recently carried out an undercover investigation of cargo clearance in Apapa Port, revealed that each of these agencies go home with a minimum underhand payment of N1 million daily, extracted from importers desperate to clear their cargoes.

“When container is opened for inspection, officials of all agencies go in to check, and each of them collects N1,000 for just looking at the container without proper examination.

“The undercover investigation has shown that the comptroller-general of NCS, Hameed Ali’s strategy of retiring 40 senior customs officers and threatening to give 10 years minimum jail term to any corrupt officer, have so far omitted the factor most crucial to sanitising the service, which is the elimination of human contact with importers and agents. Without a technological revolution, the will of the Customs’ boss to rid Customs of corruption will be futile,” Soyombo’s report stated.

According to Soyombo, a releasing officer, found to be demanding ‘N300,000’ to release a dully cleared cargo, would not be able to do that if the applicant submitted his endorsed documents online, and the approval process was entirely electronic, with senior officers having online access to the importer’s dealings.

“Fighting corruption in NCS is not about sacking the ‘you-survive-I-survive officer’ or the ‘N500-bribe-taking soldier,’ or the ‘your-machine-is-undervalued bribe-seeking releasing officer.’ It is purely about enthroning a custom of institutional probity, about instituting a corruption-intolerant system,” he emphasised.

“Nigerian port needs paperless Customs; e-payment of Customs duty; e-container loading list; electronic risk-based inspection; connecting other government agencies under one platform and e-permit exchange among operators,” said, Sameer Mubarak, chairman,  National Freight Information and Transport Hub (NAFITH), an Iranian-based company that recently conducted a survey on Nigerian seaports.

Mubarak said “government agencies and port operators need to adopt the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) single window model that is electronically powered to be able to reduce the cost of clearing container, which is transferred to Nigerian populace.

“This single window model has been tested in the Western world and it will ensure that Customs becomes automated.”