• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Finance minister, others oppose repeal of Customs Act 2004

Finance minister, others oppose repeal of Customs Act 2004

Nigeria’s minister of finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, and stakeholders on Tuesday opposed the repeal of the Customs and Excise Management Act 2004 to establish the Nigeria Customs Service Act, 2021.

A bill to repeal the extant Customs Act 2004 had passed the second reading in the House of Representatives on November 30.

The bill seeks to reposition the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to be financially stable in order to recruit the required number of personnel needed to man the nation’s porous borders and boost revenue collection.

But at a public hearing organised by the House Committee on Customs and Excise, there was stiff opposition from stakeholders, including the Association of Customs Licensed Agents (ANCLA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Presidential Task Force to Reform Nigeria Customs, among others who towed the path of the finance minister.

They frowned at the overlapping functions given to the NCS by the proposed legislation with other agencies, describing the new law as draconian. According to them, allowing the Customs overbearing powers will lead to the abuse of powers and erode of citizens’ human rights by the service.

The finance minister, represented by the permanent secretary in the ministry, Aliyu Ahmed expressed support for the modernisation of the legal framework for the administration and management of the Nigeria Customs Service to complement ongoing reforms initiated by the ministry.

Ahmed, however, argued that attempt to create an autonomous Customs regulatory body that is separate from the supervision of the ministry of finance, budget and national planning was not in line with international best practice as Customs administration in most developed democracies and other developing nations is under the supervision of the treasury, or the ministry responsible for finance or economic management. They cited the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Ghana and Uganda.

Read also: Apapa Customs Command generates N89bn in November

“The contemplation of an autonomous Customs Service is in abeyance with extant laws regarding the treasury, supervision of the treasury and all agencies which remit funds to the federation account and the consolidated revenue fund.

In line with the finance (management and control) Act, the finance ministry is the relevant authority charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Customs and Excise legislation as it relates to trade and fiscal policies and where appropriate, apply other relevant provisions applicable to goods subject to such measures.

“The composition of the board as proposed by the bill is unwieldy with the inclusion of the chairman and 13 other members and the deputy comptroller-generals.

Ministries like aviation, interior, transportation and foreign affairs need not be represented on the board. Also, the intention to replace the minister of finance as the chairman of the board with an appointee of Mr. President subject to confirmation by the National Assembly, will limit the supervisory authority of the Federal Government. This is not in alignment with Section 80 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which creates the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the provisions of Section 4 of the Finance (Management and Control) Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria,” minister argued.

The minister further kicked against the move in the new bill to empower the Customs to engage in border enforcement and regulatory activities which she said was tantamount to an infringement on the mandate of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) by virtue of the provisions of the Immigration Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which empowers the NIS to protect Nigeria’s borders.

According to Ahmed, the Customs has the mandate to establish Customs offices at the borders, but the protection of the nation’s borders is strictly within the purview of NIS and not the NCS as stated in this bill.

“The bill seeks to authorise the Customs to make regulations concerning the manufacture of beer, tobacco, carbonated drinks (etc) which is firmly an infringement on the provisions of the Nigeria Factories Act which places the mandate to oversee the manufacturing of certain products in the purview of the minister of industries, trade and investments and the minister of labour.

“In the context of a major reform of the Customs administration—including legislative changes, the degree of administrative autonomy required to support the reform needs to be considered. Increased autonomy does not automatically solve the problems of a weak Customs administration and may lead to new problems if the newly autonomous administration is not properly supervised and made accountable to prevent leakages and abuse of power,” the minster added.

Femi Gbajabiamila, the speaker of the House, said the ongoing efforts to overhaul the system of Customs and Excise in the country through the enactment of a new statutory framework was to tackle the current national revenue challenge

“This effort is long overdue, and much needed to address existing challenges with Customs enforcement, ports efficiency, smuggling prevention, efficient collection and remittance of government revenue and the proper implementation of government fiscal measures. Whether or not we will succeed in these objectives depends largely on the stakeholders gathered here today and the contributions you make to the legislative process.”