The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) must move beyond its traditional roles of trade facilitation and law enforcement to collaborate on ways to guard the community, says President Goodluck Jonathan.
The President, who was speaking on Thursday in Brussels, Belgium at the 119th/120th sessions of the Customs Cooperation Council as part of the Diamond Jubilee anniversary of the World Customs Organization (WCO), said the NCS must demonstrate commitment to build strategic partnerships with the business sector by helping the local industry maintain the competitive edge.
“The prevailing state of global insecurity requires us all not to lose focus on the traditional enforcement role of Customs,” the President said.
“In this respect, Customs administrations would need to strengthen themselves and ensure that their specific control mandate is used not only to guard against illegal activities, but also protect the integrity of our socio-economic systems.”
To help address the challenges of national and regional security issues relating to the rising menace of terrorism, proliferation of light weapons, narcotics, smuggling, money-laundering and other cross-border crimes, the president called for collaboration between Customs administrations in the context of regional and multilateral cooperation.
With growing trade liberalisation and regional integration, the president said the character of trade and tariff policies has altered, particularly in developing countries, including Nigeria, adding that this has significantly impacted Customs administrations as a result of direct linkages between trade policy reform and administration.
He said Customs administrations must take steps to remove those factors that constitute obstacles to maximising the benefits from on-going trade policy reforms, including enhancing and deepening trade integration between regions.
The real challenge to the reforms, the president noted, remain the capacity of Customs to review its own policies, strategise and adapt to the new direction in government policy, adding that the agency must strengthen its valuation system, reduce physical inspections, reliance on post-clearance audits, rules of origin and enhance its monitoring and supervision roles to ameliorate fraud.
He emphasized the need for Customs to be responsive to the industry by simplifying their operational procedures, ensure efficient processing of shipments as well as transparent use of rules and regulations to ensure greater efficiency, enhanced competitiveness and higher productivity.
Reviewing the efforts of his administration to enhance efficiency, the President expressed commitment to the reduction of the cost of doing business through savings in paper work, and reduction in the total transaction cost, including cargo clearance and risk assessment.
On efforts by his administration to ensure operational efficiency, he said the government introduced the Single Window concept to reduce the number of agencies operating at the ports, introduce the one-stop-check procedure in Customs clearance, establish Inland Container Depots and strengthen other sister agencies like the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC).
Other initiatives included reforms in maritime transport and port operations to enhance the capacity of existing regulatory institutions like the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), while government is currently working on a Ports and Harbours Bill to further strengthen and sustain the policy shift to private-sector operation of ports under concession agreements.
President Jonathan, who spoke with members of the Nigerian community in Belgium, said the House of Representatives Oil Subsidy report has since been handed over to law enforcement agents for carefully investigation to establish water-tight cases against those alleged to have committed offences.
“The EFCC is working on the report, so we must give them the chance to do their job,” he said.
“We have to build water-tight cases if we hope to get any conviction for any wrongdoing. Because the law demands proof, it is better to do a good job than to lose the cases in court due to shoddy preparations.
President Jonathan called on Nigerians in the Diaspora to join the transformation agenda by investing in industries at home to create jobs, noting that many developed countries have reached this position because their citizens resident outside have gone back to invest there.