Destination Inspection: Screening Machines Inherited By Customs Rot At Ports, Border Posts
OVER $120 million goods inspection equipment inherited by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), about three years ago, are now malfunctioning, making it mandatory for goods to be inspected manually at the ports and border posts in the country.
The scanning machines were inherited from Cotecna Destination Inspection limited, Global Scan Systems and SGS scanning Nigeria Ltd, which carried out destination inspection operations at the gateways, on contract basis for about eight years, before the service was transferred to the Nigeria Customs Service.
Each of the service providers (the contractors), who operated in different location nationwide were allowed to put in place basic infrastructure and manage them for seven years before handing them over to the Federal Government, through the NCS.
Before the termination of the inspection contract by the Federal Government about three years ago, Cotecna, which operated in the Lagos ports, said it was bequeathing $70 million worth of equipment for scanning of goods arriving at port to facilitate the process of clearing.
The scanning machines were installed at Tin-can Island, Apapa, Port Harcourt Ports, Banki and Seme land borders, the Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja Airports. Some of these locations had fixed or mobile scanners.
But investigations revealed during the week that many of these scanning machines have stopped functioning, compelling the Nigeria Customs to resort to physical examination of all containers, the process, which many described as ‘‘cumbersome and time wasting.”
Stakeholders are already agitating, and have called on the Federal Government to act now before a total system collapse at the ports.
Lucky Amiwero, the Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents said the Nigeria Customs Service lacks the capacity to handle Destination Inspection.
According to him, goods clearing processes are now being carried out with impunity as official procedures had since been jettisoned because of the situation with the scanning machines.
“Scanning machines are tools introduced by the Federal Government to facilitate trade. They are to complement non-Intrusive inspection, that is cargo inspection without opening containers in order to speed up operations at the gateways. The scanning procedure is under selective principle of Inspection that allocate rick according to the nature and origin of consignments. The risk assessment determines whether a particular consignment should be physically inspected, allowed to leave without inspection or go through scanning machines. The scanning process was introduced to facilitate trade through non-intrusive inspection. The Scanning Contain Risk Procedure connected to ICT that accommodate the allocated risk, which is the core of destination Inspection operated for eight years, by the service providers, without any problem. Just one year and Five months after the take over, almost all the scanners have packed up to completely impede the risk management process, which is the core of selectivity approach for trade facilitation. The implication is total breakdown of the destination Inspection (DI), as they are using manual application with impunity,” he lamented. Another Port user said
“some people deliberately allowed the scanning machines to be dead. ‘‘They know what happened to the scanning machines.
The one at Apapa is not working, so is the one at Tin- Can Island and some land borders. They are now doing 100 per cent physical examination, which is very slow, but they are all benefiting from it. We are the ones suffering because to get the customs and officials from other agencies to carry out physical examination on your container, you will pay them through your nose. Corruption is now endemic here because the machines are down. How many containers can they examine in a day, using this physical method? You will pay customs, you will pay NDLEA, Plant Quarantine, name them, and about seven agencies and they will all collect gratification before the commencement of examination. It is too much and this has pushed upward the cost of clearing at the Lagos Ports,” he lamented.
The Terminal operators are also feeling the pain as a result of breakdown of the machines. Many of them said it was already causing congestion because containers can no longer be cleared as soon as they are discharged.
Investigations also revealed that many of the Terminal operators are now planning to acquire their own scanning machines to facilitate operations relating to evacuation of goods from their domain.
An authoritative source at one of the Terminals in Lagos confirmed that the scanner in his terminal had since stopped functioning. He said the company was already planning to procure its own, in order to facilitate operations at the terminal. According to him, the Nigeria Customs Service was aware of the plan.
“None of the scanners are working and so every container has to be physically examined. This is putting pressure on our equipment, which we now repair very often and put in more manpower for a simple operation that can be done by the machine. But we are planning to intervene, by acquiring more modern scanners in large number. We know it is not our responsibility to do that. We want to do it to assist the customs service, although at a very high cost,” he said. Another source close to the Customs in Lagos confirmed the bad state of the scanning devices at the gateways, saying, “they are obsolete”.
“You will remember that during the time of the service providers (contractors) these machines were always faulty. So then, we raised alarm that the machines are old and obsolete. But people thought we were just out to castigate the service providers, who installed them. Now the reality is down on all of us. I am sure it is old age that is telling on them. I learnt that our headquarters is trying to raise fund to buy something better. You cannot hide old age. That is exactly the case with these machines,” he said.