OrderPaperToday – The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and other stakeholders on Tuesday moved against a Customs bill being considered by the House of Representatives.
The bill to repeal the Customs and Excise Management to establish the Nigeria Custom Service Act, 2021, had passed second reading in the House of Representatives on November 30, 2021.
It positions Customs to be financially stable in order to recruit the required number of personnel needed to man Nigeria’s porous borders and block leakages in the Service.
However, at a public hearing organized by the House Committee on Customs and Excise, the bill suffered a setback as stakeholders including the Association of Customs Licensed Agents (ANCLA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Presidential Task Force to Reform Nigeria Customs, amongst strongly opposed the proposed law.
On her part, the minister of finance pointed to overlapping functions given to the Customs by the proposed legislation over other agencies and described it as draconian and laden with overbearing powers that will erode citizens’ human rights by the Service.
Ahmed, who was represented by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Aliyu Ahmed, argued that an attempt to create an autonomous Customs regulatory body which is separate from the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, was not in line with international best practice as Customs administration in most developed democracies and other developing nations is under the supervision of the Treasury, or the Ministry responsible for Finance or Economic Management.
He cited the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Ghana and Uganda as examples of countries to buttress his point.
She said: “The contemplation of an autonomous Customs Service is in abeyance with extant laws regarding the treasury, supervision of the treasury and all agencies which remit funds to the Federation Account and the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
“In line with the Finance (Management and Control) Act, FMFBNP is the relevant authority charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Customs and Excise legislations regarding trade and fiscal policies and where appropriate, apply other relevant provisions applicable to goods subject to such measures.
“The composition of the Board as proposed by the Bill is unwieldy with the inclusion of the Chairman and thirteen other members and the DCGs (Deputy Controller Generals). Ministries like Aviation, Interior, Transportation and Foreign Affairs need not be represented on the Board.
“Also, the intention to replace the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning as the Chairman of the Board with an appointee of Mr. President subject to confirmation by the National Assembly, will limit the supervisory authority of the Federal Government. This is not in alignment with Section 80 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which creates the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the provisions of Section 4 of the Finance (Management and Control) Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.”
The minister further kicked against move to empower NCS to engage in border enforcement and regulatory activities, which she said, is an infringement on the mandate of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) by virtue of the provisions of the Immigrations Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which empowers the NIS to act to protect Nigeria’s borders.
According to her, NCS has the mandate to establish Customs Offices at the borders, but the protection of the nation’s borders is strictly within the purview of NIS and not the NCS as stated in the bill.
“The Bill seeks to authorize the NCS to make regulations concerning the manufacture of beer, tobacco, carbonated drinks (etc) which is firmly an infringement on the provisions of the Nigeria Factories Act which places the mandate to oversee the manufacturing of certain products in the purview of the Minister of Industries, Trade and Investments and the Minister of Labour.
“In the context of a major reform of customs administration—including legislative changes, the degree of administrative autonomy required to support the reform needs to be considered. Increased autonomy does not automatically solve the problems of a weak Customs administration and may lead to new problems if the newly autonomous administration is not properly supervised and made accountable to prevent leakages and abuse of power.
“At this stage of our development, especially given our peculiar political economy, a complete independence from the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is not desirable as it can lead to conflicts in the area of tax policy and revenue administration.
“Accordingly, since the activities of the NCS are directly related to fiscal and trade policies of the nation they should be subject to the direct supervision of the FMFBNP in line with the provisions of the Finance (Management and Control) Act and international best practices.
“The proposed law must be seen to clearly place the Customs Service under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning with clear reporting relationship and an unambiguous retention of the NCS original mandate of regulating the influx of goods and collection of revenue from customs and excise levies and fees,” the minister stated.
Earlier, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila in his opening remarks spoke of ongoing efforts to overhaul the system of Customs and Excise in the country through the enactment of a new statutory framework necessary to tackle the current national revenue challenge
Gbajabiamila said: “This effort is long overdue, and much needed to address existing challenges with customs enforcement, ports efficiency, smuggling prevention, efficient collection and remittance of government revenue and the proper implementation of government fiscal measures. Whether or not we will succeed in these objectives depends largely on the stakeholders gathered here today and the contributions you make to the legislative process.
“Ensuring that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) operates optimally in executing its statutory functions without corruption and malfeasance of any sort is essential to achieve these other objectives. And this is what we hope to achieve with the Bill under consideration.”