FG, agents bicker over eastern ports’ overtime cargoes
Days after the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, expressed concerns over overtime cargoes at eastern ports, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service and some clearing agents have started trading blames.
While the agents have blamed the NCS for implementing policies that inhibit trade, the agency has tagged importers who cannot boldly clear their cargoes as criminals.
It will be recalled that Sambo, during a facility tour at the eastern ports in Port Harcourt over the weekend, had told stakeholders that the issue of overtime cargoes was alarming, noting that the management of the NCS should be able to find a solution to the problem.
The minister had said that the affected cargoes were occupying strategic spaces with negative impact on revenue at the ports, stressing that some of the cargoes might have expired and could have high risks of exploding at the ports.
In an exclusive chat with The PUNCH on Monday, the Secretary of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Stanley Ezenga, said that the policies on ground were usually different from what importers would meet when their goods arrived in Nigeria, thereby affecting their plans.
He explained that by the time importers would start rearranging themselves, the grace period would have elapsed.
Ezenga said that it was impossible for any importer to bring in a consignment and abandon it at the port.
“No shipper will like to import goods and abandon it inside the port. The proliferation of overtime cargoes is as a result of government policies. The government is inconsistent. What you know before you bring in goods would be different from what you meet on ground when the goods arrive in Nigeria. It throws the importer off balance. Now, in order to strategise and probably raise the funds to clear the cargoes, the stipulated grace time would have elapsed and before you know, it is an overtime cargo. So that is what causes overtime cargoes. It is not that an importer will deliberately allow his cargos to just be at the port.”
According to him, “The Customs can be blamed on this because they are the ones enforcing the government’s fiscal policy. So, they, in their own wisdom, can advise the ministry under which they operate for a way forward, maybe in terms of some tax rebate on some of those items imported that are lying at the ports. If the policy is friendly, cargo clearance will be better. So, I think bad policies, which are 80 per cent, are actually leading to the abandonment of these cargoes. The other 20 per cent is the error of logistics.”
Corroborating Ezenga, the Taskforce Chairman at Tin-Can, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Amuni Rilwan, said, “The money that we spend on clearing these consignments before and what we spend now are not the same. We blame the Customs because of this because they are the people that implement the policies. The charges are too high. I cannot be specific on the number or percentage of abandoned cargoes at the ports but I know a lot of cargoes have been abandoned at the ports from terminal to terminal. There is no money so the importers cannot meet up with the demands for the clearing of some of these cargoes, which is the problem.”
In his response, the National Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Timi Bomodi, said anybody who imported goods and could not boldly claim it at the ports was most likely a criminal.
He added that he saw no reason why an honest importer would bring in a goods and abandon them at the ports.
“If someone is doing a legitimate business, what stops the person from taking the goods out of the ports. You imported a consignment and you know when it is supposed to arrive after getting the required documents, so what is the Customs’ business in that consignment not leaving the ports? Anybody who imports something and cannot boldly go and claim it is most likely a criminal. They are breaking the law and they know the consequences, so they keep running away. Otherwise, I see no reason why an honest businessman, who is complying with the rules, will import something and keep it at the ports. What are they afraid off?”
Bomodi challenged the importers to come up with evidence of clearance and Customs failing to release their goods.
He added that Customs could only work when the importers or their agents had done what they were supposed to do.
“Why will the consignments be at the ports if the importers had come to clear them? Let any of them come and say they paid their duties and Customs failed to release their consignments to them. Has anyone said that that they have paid the necessary things and Customs failed to release their consignments? Customs cannot do anything until an importer or his agents do what he or she is supposed to do. You don’t come to the Customs’ zone until you have made your payment.”
According to him, “I know this is coming from eastern ports and we are saying that those people that do legitimate business have no fear whatsoever in clearing their goods out of the ports. It is only the people that have things to hide that are running away.”