The Automated Systems for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) Project Manager (APM) of the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) , Deputy Comptroller Muhammed Gaya has said that over 90 per cent of alerts issued by officers of the Service is justifiable , exact and correct.
He explained that the customs has a responsibility to collect adequate revenue on imports on behalf of the Federal Government and as such whenever its officers discover that some infractions have been committed on the goods or that customs duty has been under paid in any way, they owe it a duty to give alert and if need be raise Debit Note (DN) for collection of additional duty.
Gaya however stated that it is not in all cases that alert must attract DN , but it is just a notice that officer should treat the document in question with extra care and scrutinize it very well pending when the importer or his agents would be invited for explanation on the observations that have been raised.
The APM informed that any alert will always state the reason why it is being given adding that once the importer can explain himself to the satisfaction of the customs in line with the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act(CEMA) , there is no point to be scared of alert because it is not punitive.
‘’ Alert is not a setback in any way but it is just meant to ensure that the importer especially has done the right thing.Each unit of customs has a purpose for issuing alert.The Valuation officers for instance have a right to talk about valuation and classification in issuing alerts on containers while it is not meant to delay trade facilitation on the part of customs but to ensure that the law is not violated’’, he said.
The APM made it clear that customs officers or any of its units do not give out frivolous alerts adding that in most cases , there could have been issues of classification , tariff or even concealment that would warrant that the owner of the goods would cheat the federal government of its revenue if such an alert is not issued.
According to him, the government fiscal policy as well as the Customs through its enabling legal instrument the CEMA) has given the importer so much latitude, through many processes to do the right thing by himself so as to pay the correct duty on his goods but shippers still continue to cut corners through ignorance and for the fact that they don’t want to pay tax.
The Deputy Comptroller said that it is the importer who has been given the opportunity to open Form M and make self-declaration based on which the Customs issues the Pre Arrival Assessment Report(PAAR ) that still goes ahead to have concealment or other goods different entirely in the container, adding that there is no way , Customs will not raise DN on such goods.
He disclosed that customs officers do not just raise alerts because they want to fulfill the Service revenue target or because they want to seek opportunity to be compromised as claimed by agents , but primarily to ensure that freight forwarders and importers do not under pay or evade import duty payment.
Gaya was of the view that, it would be wrong for any agent or importer to be blaming customs for doing its work of adequate revenue generation through issuing of alerts , but that the shippers and the customs agents should rather endeavor to make sincere declaration at all times to avoid being called back to pay what they wanted to avoid.
The APM manager advised importers to be sincere always in their declaration to help customs to facilitate trade, explaining that Apapa Command and the Service generally can only speed up the process of clearing of goods at the seaport within the extent of the limit which importers want this to be done.
He said shippers should desist from wanting to be dishonest in the process of importation and clearing of their goods in order not to cause delay to the removal of their consignment at the ports, saying that it is in the process of their trying to be pennywise and pound foolish that they would be caught in their act, issued alert and DN which may make their goods to enter demurrage and they would have to pay more.
It will be recalled that some importers and customs agents raised an alarm recently that the customs has engaged in the indiscriminate issuing of alerts and subsequent giving of DN on almost all their containers, even when they have made correct declarations and paid the requisite import duty, alleging that the Service was doing this to meet its revenue target.
But Gaya emphasized that , while Customs has a duty to collect revenue and strive to meet and even surpass its target , its officers are however not out to issue alerts that are unnecessary particularly when the importer has not engaged in any infraction that would make him not to pay the right amount of duty to the federal government or violate the country’s fiscal policy.