Customs chief Hameed Ali appears before Senate panel

Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, Hameed Ali
Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, Hameed Ali

The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Hameed Ali, appeared before the Senate Committee on Public Accounts on Thursday.

He appeared after he was summoned several times by the panel.

Mr Ali appeared before the committee to respond to queries in an auditor-general’s report, including an indictment of the Customs.

The report stated that the Nigerian Customs Service and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) violated the Pension Reform Act 2014 which requires them to remit five per cent of their contributory pension to the National Pension Commission (PenCom).

The report by the auditor-general had among other things called on the accountant-general to “provide his investment ledger meant for the funds,” explain the reason the two agencies failed to comply with the provisions of the act while also sanctioning them as due.

The Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, had explained on behalf of the FIRS

“The noncompliance of the remittance of five per cent of the contributory pension was as a result of insufficient funds. Also, I wish to state, as funding improves, the service will comply accordingly,” he said last week.

He said the Customs could explain its own actions.

The chairman of the committee, Matthew Urhoghide, had threatened to “do a letter to the CG Customs that we are going to hold him responsible for the testimony given by the Account-General” for his continuous failure to appear before the committee.

“His deliberate refusal to appear will take it that the accusations are correct and will are going to hold him responsible,” he said.

The query

Reading out the query, the Auditor General of the Federation, Anthony Ayin, noted that the Customs and FIRS were not contributing five per cent monthly wage of their employees to the pension fund contrary to Section 39 (2) of the Pension Reform Act.

“These two organizations ought to contribute five per cent monthly wage bill of their employees since their personnel cost does not come out of the normal budget because of the seven per cent and four per cent cost of collection of NCS and FIRS respectively,” he said.

He said the accountant-general is required to:

*Invite the investment ledgers maintained for the fund.

*Explain the reason for the NCS and FIRS non compliance with the Pension Reform Act.

*Sanction the organisation above for not complying with the Pension Reform Act, 2014 in accordance to Section 85 of the Act.

Mr Ayine had in his Financial Statement for 2015 also asked the accountant-general to explain the differentials in the amount remitted by the Customs Service and the figures contained in his own records.

The audited report showed that the Customs remitted N185 billion as against the N157 billion in the chief accountant’s document – a difference of N28 billion.

The accountant-general, who was represented by Feyintola Olusegun, a director in his office, had earlier referred the auditor-general and the Senate panel to the Customs for clarification.

Responses

The accountant-general, who responded first, said the non-compliance with the contributory pension law is due to insufficient funds.

Similarly, Mr Ali blamed the Customs non-remittance on insufficient funds. He said the Customs has been unable to remit the five per cent and since his appointment, the “government” has been supporting the Customs.

READ ALSO: Foreign rice in Nigerian markets now 37% – Report

“When I came into customs in 2015, the government had to keep giving us subventions to intervention funds in order to make up the payment of our officers and that continued up till today until recently when part of Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) was given to us to augment our payment, I always sort for payment of our salaries. What the accountant-general said is the true situation.”

He added that the Customs only started receiving the necessary funds.

“Now that we have the CISS and pay every emolument our officers are supposed to get, then we can take five per cent and begin to pay,” he said.

Responding to the N28 billion difference allegedly under-remitted into the Federation Account in 2015, the Customs boss absolved his agency of any wrongdoing.

The query in question was strange to the service because the mode of Customs collections are purely automated, he said.

“For anybody to be pointing at us; then there is a problem”, he said.

The accountant-general, then, made a U-turn with a new explanation that the N28 billion was used for ECOWAS stabilisation fund for 2015.

This explanation did not sit well with the lawmakers especially as it was not reflected in his earlier written submission to the Senate panel and was
unable to provide documentary evidence to back up his claim.

The panel, thereafter, asked the accountant-general to provide details of an “unpaid domestic loan of N37.8billion borrowed from ten per cent Rice Level Account for urgent expenditure in 2013.”

This is to enable the committee to conclude its probe.


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