By Remi Adebayo
A country’s economic survival largely depends on innovations at revamping strategic sectors of the economy to drive efficiency and competition; to increase investment; reduce costs, minimize wastages and expand the range of services. As such, the port, being a critical sector in revenue generation and window to any nation, is always at the forefront of engendering and advancing efforts to boost government revenue and national security.
Over the years, Nigerian ports have experienced phases in ownership, management and regulation. In fact, as far back as 2005, when the Nigerian government proved disappointing in the face of competing demands, the ports lacked the resources to fund substantial innovations in the sector. Consequently, the government transferred the provision of needed infrastructure services to the private sector, with necessary sector reform and re-structuring before concessioning.
Many Nigerians who had businesses at the seaports before the concession went through difficulties, experiencing various forms of shoddiness, malfunctioning equipment, pilferage, bribery and allied vices carried out by miscreants called ‘wharf rats’. More headaches were provided by unscrupulous labour contractors who held ship masters and agents to ransom even after they have paid all official fees.
These deplorable acts were compounded by seemingly over-bloated workforce deployed by various government agencies at the seaports who often work to undermine and outsmart each other.
Unarguably, the Nigerian maritime sector has underperformed, forcing the government to accede to the proposal by the Federal Ministry of Transport to thinker with extant policy.The outcome is the invitation of all interested international stakeholders in Nigerian seaborne trade to partake in a competitive bidding for private operators to run the ports purely as profit-oriented commercial ventures paying tax to the Federal Government. This was the basis of the seaport reform agenda subsequently adopted by the Federal Executive Council.
Fortunately, the government was able to achieve its goal and address some deficiencies with the concession of ports which made it to record impressive results. Going forward, government and concessionaires realized the need to embrace modern customs’ practices and procedures to reduce the delays, bottlenecks and corruption within the ports.
In a bid to achieve this, Col. Hameed Ali, rtd, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, is keen in fast-tracking the e-custom strategic plan, an initiative which began in 2016 when 94 companies responded to a bid request by the NCS. In the exercise, 15 companies were pre-qualified and invited to make presentations on their solutions.
At the end, Bionica Technologies W.A. Limited came top after a rigorous evaluation process. The company has five technical partners, including Paramout Group, Huawei Technology, Smiths Detection, Larsen & Toubro Group and Nuctech of China. The partners are mobilising about $450 million in investment to attain the complete turnaround programme. The Africa/Finance Corporation has indicated its interest in supporting the Customs automation programme.
The consortium will partner with the Nigeria Customs Service by deploying direct capital investment, collaborating with original equipment manufacturers to develop and implement specific modernization programs.
Specifically, the consortium will implement full automation of all the Nigeria Custom’s business processes and procedures through the development and implementation of a robust and secured ICT platform. This entails complete systems integration with the current ICT platform; development and implementation of modern customs border stations, airports and marine posts. The marine posts would be utilized to develop the marine customs outfit.
The collaboration provides for the repair and upgrade of existing scanners; including installation of sophisticated fit-for-site new scanners suitable for site-type customs operations in secured locations, available all-year-round. The innovation will also focus on modernizing strategic customs infrastructures as well as delivery on full capacity-building programs for officers with local and internationally recognised professional certification across cadres in line with international best practices.
Stakeholders have applauded this impactful vision; especially the benefits of a strong partnership with 100 percent attraction for external finance and having no immediate cost to the NCS for all projects. Instead, it will increase revenue for the government, create jobs, minimize smuggling and insecurity owing to porous and largely unmanned border posts.
Similarly, the turnaround will ensure that the business of the Customs is fully automated using the latest smart technologies provided by Original Equipment Manufacturers. It will also guarantee the evolution of an integrated border management module with Centralized Automated Customs Risk Management System, through real-time remote scanning operations.
Pundits also believe that through this measure, there will be drastic reduction in leakages and other trade malpractices; transparency, predictability and trade facilitation. It will also address current national security challenges through sharing of information data with other partner organizations. The innovation will also upgrade the Nigeria Customs Service’s current ICT infrastructure, existing scanners and scanning operations and facilities.
On the long term, the direct capital investment through the proposed Public Private Partnership promises a professional execution of the Nigerian Custom Service’s modernization programme. It will ensure that all collectable revenues are accounted for in-line with the Treasury Single Account policy of the Federal Government. This will in turn shore up the pedigree of the NCS amongst the best organised worldwide, as it rapidly reduces and eventually eliminates incentive to leakages while also discouraging corrupt practices.
These innovations are not peculiar to Nigeria. Checks on the website of the Port of Singapore, the busiest container trans-shipment hub in the world, indicated a remarkable success of the solution proposed for the NCS. Similarly, Shanghai Customs is using the container image centralized analysis system at the Shanghai Yangshan Port for its Mega Ports initiative.
The Turkish Customs use it for Centralized Supervision System; Singapore Custom Inspection has the Smart Clearance System; Qatar Customs deployed it for Container Image Centralized Analysis System while the Venezuelan Customs has deployed same for its National Inspection Centralized Supervision System.
At this time the Nigerian Government is enforcing the temporary border closure policy to curb economic and security lapses, including economic sabotage and smuggling of small arms and light weapons, the implementation of the new e-customs policy is indeed long overdue.
- Adebayo is a public policy analyst in Abuja.
– Nov. 11, 2019 @ 8:29 GMT |