$3.1b automation deal
‘We are in full support of FG modernization initiative’- Webb Fontaine boss
Webb Fontaine has been around for awhile, can you give us an overview of its impact on the national economy?
Thank you. Webb Fontaine was appointed by Nigeria Customs Service to implement a Customs centric Single Window Portal and the provision of IT & Telecom infrastructure for Nigeria. This encompasses the delivery of Webb Fontaine’s: Customs Webb, Customs Management System nationwide as the Nigerian Customs Integrated System, NICIS II. NICIS II has been adopted as a home grown ICT innovation for Nigeria Customs electronic platform. So, effectively, we have impacted in capacity building through training and retraining of customs officers, some port users and other government employees. So far, we have trained over 10,000 Nigerians on a total of 13,479 sessions on various aspects of ICT aided trade procedures. Many of them are customs officers. Specifically on ASYCUDA ++ we trained 2804 persons; on NICIS I & II we trained 10,260; on Database, Oracle, 36 and on System Administration 30. Other training sessions undertaken by us for Nigerians include SO Class for 6; Java 84; Help Desk 213; Support 26 and Networking 20. Also, our E-government software products, information and telecommunications technology and infrastructure services, peripherals and consumables, business process reengineering and standardization has been applied successfully across various government agencies.
In all of these, how have your services connected with and impacted the ease of doing policy of the federal government and trade facilitation?
Our services synchronizes well with the Federal Government of Nigeria Ease of Doing Business and Trade Facilitation policies. We have always demonstrated commitment in helping government succeed in the drive to promote efficiency, time saving and transparency in the conduct of its businesses. A lot of private sector operators have also found our support invaluable because of our culture of international best practices and promotion of legitimate way of doing things. It is pertinent I state that we are a company with international reach that has impeccable track records of providing trade solutions in several countries in which we have demonstrated adequate capacity.
Covid-19 has practically challenged the Nigerian economy, as expert in systems management, what is your advice to the federal government in terms of managing the pandemic to its advantage. To what extent has your operations been affected by Covid-19 and how are you managing it to advantage?
Navigating the complex world of logistics, international Customs and global supply chains in the post-Covid-19 era will require Government agencies and the private sector to embrace new methods that prioritise digitalisation. We strongly recommend knowledge sharing and streamlining of complicated and outdated processes for the benefit of all. Knowledge sharing will come with multiple benefits like increase in government revenue, support for trade and strengthening of national and economic security. As a way of good corporate citizen, we also supported the Federal Government battle to prevent and manage Covid-19 with donations of equipment. This is a gesture we did in many other countries, like Nepal, Guinea, Ethiopia, DR Congo , Benin and Maldives. Parts of Asia and other areas of Africa also benefitted from our Covid-19 relief package. We commend the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the Presidential Task Force on Covid19 and the Federal Government for rising to the occasion by being proactive in the face of the crisis. On our own part we also strengthened our purpose of knowledge-sharing during this pandemic. We brought a group of experts to Nigeria to talk in a webinar aimed at ensuring seamless trade transactions across our ports during the lockdown. Customs experts like Stephen Adekunle Oloyede, Comptroller Risk Management at the Nigeria Customs Service & Apeh Fateh Assistant Comptroller for ICT and Head of the Implementation Team for the Nigeria Customs Service who took a ‘deep dive’ into the major issues facing global cross border trade, debated the disruptions caused by the implementation of health and safety protocols in the webinar. They explored new concepts to improve the industry by introducing greater efficiency through technology and the simplification of processes and checks. Following on from the discussions we have created a report to continue the knowledge and ideas sharing.
Can you give us a recap of some of the issues dealt with during the webinar?
Presentations examined how international best practices can be incorporated into all aspects of the sector, particularly in emergency situations, and recommends possible routes of action in critical moments. It draws conclusions from lessons learnt globally and how these can be integrated into a detailed package of procedures to enable a smooth transition towards recovery and the resumption of normal business functions. The papers addressed physical distancing and reducing physical presence to a minimum; digitalisation and paperless approaches. Other areas we touched in our readiness for post Covid-19 era are Revenue collection ;Risk management inspections ;Passenger screening ;Client segmentation ;Movement of goods ;Regional and international connectivity ;Border management ;Readiness for crisis and Digitalisation.
Talking about ports economy digitalization, what was the scope of outlook?
We emphasis on the importance of digitalisation as the world begins its journey to recovery and continues to adapt to the health safety rules now required for post COVID-19.
And what were the important findings and recommendations
Well, Nigeria Customs Service is already doing so much in the digital space including application of e-Form M, their revenue has experienced appreciable increase. The NICIS II has been recognised as a credible digital trade platform by the World Trade Organisation and the World Customs Organisation. Instructively, this has afforded the customs service the wherewithal to adapt, and the service is very prepared for optimal operations even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. You may wish to know that throughout the Covid-19 disruptions, the Nigeria Customs Service has maintained its revenue performance, which may not always have been the case for other government agencies.While the NCS revenue target changes from year to year; it was initially slashed in 2020 because of the expected revenue shortfall due to Covid-19. However, the total collections up to May this year are greater than last year’s total at the same time, and NCS achieved well over 60 percent of the target. The service generated N976.6 billion from January to August 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the shutdown of the country in March this year. Very important also, the Customs IT platform operated robustly throughout the period of reduced movement. NCS have really shone a light on just how important a digital led Customs approach is, and in many ways is leading the way; even with plans to get more automated as recently approved by the Federal Government
Going by media reports, stakeholders have been very critical of the recent $3.1b customs automation deal. What is Webb Fontaine’s take on the development?
We don’t know where those reports are coming from, I have read some of them and was surprised to also see Webb Fontaine’s name given prominent mention under the circumstances. We are investigating the source of the media reports. We won’t in anyway support a narrative that shows tendencies to discourage modernisation progress or against the work of the Federal Government of Nigeria to enhance revenue collection and border security. From what I have seen, the huge amount mentioned is even to be brought in by the private sector. We have no issues with Bionica or their plans, and we have neither initiated nor asked to be joined in lawsuit against them. Let me say here that Webb Fontaine is fully supportive of all the Federal Government’s move to continue to improve on its modernization and full automation of Nigeria Customs Service and it’s processes. This will help to facilitate trade, increase revenue and enhance national security, and will improve Nigeria’s standing in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business indices. This has been our focus and we have remained consistent with this over the years.