Importers/Agents Reject Proposed Customs, FIRS Merger

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Hyacinth Chinweuba

Key operators in the maritime sector have rejected the proposed merger of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

President, of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Prince Olayiwola Shittu, who commented on the issue after an extra-ordinary meeting of the body, said the core mandate of the NCS is not revenue generation but trade facilitation in an increasingly technology-driven world.

He said the difference between the two agencies is much and they cannot work together because of coordinated border management and the need to simplify the multiple regulations and inspections at porous border stations across the country.

The Act which established the NCS, he added, is quite different from that of the FIRS and a new Act is needed ‘to marry the two strange bed-fellows together.’

He said what the Federal Ministry of Finance and the FIRS needed to do was to create a joint pro-business environment that would balance the needs of revenue collection and the facilitation of trade.

Having played an important role in the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), he said the NCS needed a close working relationship with FIRS to boost revenue.

Customs, he said, is a paramilitary organisation while FIRS is just a tax collector. “Customs is not a tax collector but a revenue generator,” Shittu said.

The ANLCA chief said instead of a merger, the two agencies should create a platform where all revenue accrued to Customs at sea ports, airports and border stations would be seen by the FIRS officials.

The ministry, he said, should insist that Customs must have a benchmark for all its transactions at ports so that its officials and tax evaders would no longer be able to manipulate the system.

According to him, the benchmark would promote transparency and reduce leakages in the system.

FMoF and the FIRS, ANLCA said, should also come up with a paperless transaction model that would make it possible for their officials to get simultaneous alert and information as importers or their clearing agents pay their duty and other charges to the banks.

He said: “The core mandate of Customs is to facilitate trade, curb smuggling and generate revenue. Its mandate in terms of responsibility is higher than the mandate of FIRS which is just to collect all revenues that is going to the Federal Government.

“Trade facilitation has become a major role seen by governments across the world as a crucial element of their economic policy, with the Customs occupying a unique position within the international supply chain of goods and services.

“Customs has an enlarged role to perform in terms of competitiveness, speedy delivery of services and legitimate trade facilitation in a global environment harbouring a litany of threats like smuggling, cross border crime, money laundering and importation of injurious and hazardous substance to the port.

“What we expect the FMoT and FIRS officials to do, is to formulate tax reform policies that must be implemented by Customs and other revenue collecting agencies.

“It is not only Customs that collects revenue on behalf of the government at ports. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and other government agencies also generate revenue at ports.

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