Cargo Examination: Expert Frowns At SON’s Desperation
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
A maritime resource person and front line freight forwarder, Dr. Eugene Nweke has urged the Nigerian Standard Organisation (SON) to remain focus and diligent in driving its core mandate through accurate identification of primary risks components, and take bold steps to address them holistically; rather than playing to the gallery.
Nweke’s position is coming on the heels of the cacophony of voices of third parties agents hired by SON to push and lobby its readmission into the ports to participate in cargo examination. It will be recalled that SON and a few others agencies were sent out of the port for constituting unnecessary bottlenecks to cargo clearance process.
SON has stopped at nothing to get back to the cargo examination bay, deploying all manners of tricks and subterfuge including attempts to blackmail relevant authorities, using available fifth columnists and paid agents, not excluding organs of the parliament.
Earlier this week, the Director General SON, Mallam Farouk Salim in yet another forum to stir up the campaign to return his organization to the port, accused the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) single window portal of blocking SON from registering alerts on suspicious imported items.
Literally robbing tears on his hands and weeping with a telling patriotic canduor that has become the lot and pastimes of certain CEOs in government agencies, the SON boss said imported substandard goods are killing the economy.
He said the only panacea is for SON to be allowed to return to the port to kill the importation of substandard imports by been involved in cargo clearance process; noting that anything short of that puts our national economy at great risk.
According to reports, Salim during a one-day stakeholder’s engagement held in Lagos lamented his inability to trigger alerts through the single window port Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NICIS II) portal to stop a suspected cargo.
He explained that this inability to engage in electronic interface in the single window portal system confine his operatives to intercept goods only at the highways and or importers’ warehouses.
The SON boss reportedly said, the agency was able to easily input alerts on consignments via the former Customs electronic platforms including NICIS I and to stop affected goods from leaving the ports, but that since the upgrade to NICIS II, the organization has been unable to make alerts.
But Nweke deferred and told SON to put its house in order, return to the drawing table and come up with an appropriate road map to fight importation of substandard goods. The former National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF), said belly aching statutory agencies mandated to administer cargo clearance is of no avail, and advised SON and its leadership to reinvigorate its regulatory powers that gives them the authority to take the fight against substandard imports to the shipping lines, who should be answerable to every offensive imports.
Nweke said dodging the duty of closing that primary outlet of monitoring shipping lines is tantamount to official malingering and ploy to subvert its core responsibilities; whilst its campaigns to return to the port to participate in cargo examination merely expose the agency’s petty aspirations to seek avenue to farm for lucre instead of concentrating on its important national assignment.
In a statement signed and made available to Pinnacle Time by Nweke, titled RE: ALLEGED IMPORTATION OF SUBSTANDARD GOODS AS BAIT FOR RETURN OF THE STANDARD ORGANIZATION NIGERIA (SON) INTO THE SEA PORTS, the erudite freight forwarder noted that SON’s failure to live up to expectation in the discharge of its mandate is historical and therefore cannot be obviated by the current campaign and alleged misinformation about the actual issues promoting influx of standard imports.
His posers to challenge SON’s pretentious agony, clearly underscores the evil that has held this country hostage for so long.
The statement reads, “First, the pertinent question on the lips of Nigerians is, from 1990 to date, at what time within this period has our market not been overly flooded or littered with substandard goods?
“There is nothing wrong with resorting to engage the advocacy supports of stakeholders to gain the attention and sympathy of the authorities, but it is also wise and justifiable to do so in the context of the prevalent realities in the industry.
“It is a known setting, when an industry standards practice cum regulatory control agency tilts more and fails to strike a balance between its core agency’s regulatory obligations and secondary obligation of revenue interests, it is obvious that one of the obligations will be greatly achieved at the detriment of the other obligations.”
Nweke argued that it is counterproductive when agencies of government with mandate to ensure standards veer off their monitoring roles to engage in revenue pursuit, and attempt to equate themselves with the customs service, statutorily designed to generate revenue at the port industry.
“May I urge regulatory agencies to desist from thinking in the realm of the Nigeria Customs and its enabling objectives to the nation. For emphasis sake, the Nigeria Customs core obligation is revenue generation and to curb activities around it, that limits it from achieving bumper revenue generation, hence, it’s anti smuggling operations.
“Regulatory agencies should emphasis more on their core regulatory objectives and de-emphasize the revenue aspect, which keeps them in dilemma with the NASS who are only concerned about revenue mostly.”
The renown freight forwarder urged SON to rather beam its searchlight on shipping lines and hold them responsible for bringing in substandard imports into Nigeria, rather than engage in a roundabout attempt that purport to evade the real issues.
“Ever wondered, how comes the shipping lines deliver only standards trade goods to other neighboring west Africa countries ports, but delivers anything in a container for the Nigeria ports, why deliberately hiding under the shipping clause or caveat: “Said To Contain” – STC? Do you think it is because of the compliance nature of the trading public? The answer is Hell NO!!!
“It is clear that their countries trade and shipping policy is explicit and flexible. The performing word in their trade policy is ‘..ensure adherence to all trade laws, which guarantee trade facilitation and quick turn around time….’ So, issues around the influx of substandard products into the country are not as rampant as it is in Nigeria.
“Goods coming into their ports must meet the national quality standards specifications, failing to do so, the shipping lines will be penalized and in most instances, the shipping lines are made to ship back the goods to the origin port, doing so at its own expenses.
“Their government understands that the trading public priorities and motives in international business is profits driven, and the tendencies and chances of breaching the nation trade laws in other to maximize profits are likely and obvious. As such, the government has need to evolve and deploy a prompt check and balance mechanism, between trading for national and corporate growth and trading for individual growth.”
He advised SON to up its monitoring capacity in the desired areas and ensure that shipping lines flouting standard imports are made to account; noting that this does not entail working inside the port.
“It is a national shipping law that must be respected and adhered to by any shipping lines wishing to do business with their country. And so, there is no bending the rules for the trading public cum shipping lines.
“Have you noticed that goods which meant for Nigerian Port as its final destinations, but under a trans-shipment window, finds its way to any of the ports within the west Africa countries are adequately monitored at the point of container stripping and deveining operations, just to ensure that, not even a single product carelessly enters the street, talk less of the market?”
Passionately concerned, Nweke said until and unless SON does the needful and stop being overly revenue conscious, the challenge of substandard imports will remain. He described the present romance between SON and shipping lines as demonstration of official negligence and compromise, noting that it is sunacceptable.
“Our products quality standards must remains our national standard, with no compromising for any consideration… (which was an initial error made by one of the formal Director General of the agency in 1997, while trying not to offend the trading public). Consequently, such compromise is now playing back, evidence both in policy application and in practice.
“SON knew too well that it’s greatest challenge stems from its lack of regulatory control over the shipping lines, which it needed corporately to checkmate the trading public. Pointing at the Single Window, I can bet you that even with the evolution of a single window, the influx of substandard products will persists excerpt we tackle the factor promoting the shipping of substandard products from the root, it will only but amount to building a castle in a shifting sand or a vicious circle.”
Nweke explained that part of the reason foreign shipping lines ride roughshod on Nigeria and sort of assume an untouchable status which makes them operate in disregard of our laws is that they can fix few Nigerians without character into their board; who in turn deflects all actionable laws from affecting these shipping lines.
“The Nigeria shipping environment is one that accommodates foreign shipping lines, of which many collude, fronting politicians by proxy (even electing them into their board and appointing some as administrative stooges).
“And further more join and register with associations purely for their business interests (which is to advance their cutting corners), especially those that falls short of international practices cum compromises. Nigeria seems a haven for foreign shipping lines to change its international posture and turn a national Shipping line through the instrument of a registered national association.”
On a final note, he charged Salim to focus on compliance in the appropriate quarters like ensuring that shipping lines are made to operate within the context of international shipping best practices in dealing with Nigeria, rather than wasting money and effort through paid campaigns, looking for solution in the wrong place.
“Nigerians had expected that SON other than faulting the Customs NICIS 2 as the cause of its non achieving desired quality regulatory objectives, should partner with the Customs and fashion out a Container Security Initiative – CSI as obtain in other importing climes.
“For instance in America, Britain, South Africa, and many other countries who also import from Asian countries, especially China, do so under strict adherence to specified nations quality, yet for compliance on safety and security purposes, they signed up a CSI known as the ADVANCE MANIFEST RULE aka AUTOMATED MANIFEST SYSTEM ( AMS), with the China/Shipping line.
He explained that under the CSI , Six rules are involved to drive the security initiative, and includes Carrier will have to transmit cargo declaration to the nation’s custom Authority at least 24 hour prior to commencement of loading operations at the port of loading.
“After documentary check by Customs and other regulatory agencies, the Customs will notify the carrier of those shipments that are permitted to enter irrespective port of discharge. The rule ensures that, the cargo description and analysis is precise, and does not accept general description such as “FAK” or “Machinery”. Under the rule, Carrier who loads without submitting documentation 24 hours prior to loading will face fines and risk delays, including denial of permission to unload.
“SON’s non participation in physical examination or as christened “non presence” in the port has little or nothing to do with the influx of substandard goods into the ports. SON should be BOLD to confront their fearful monsters (shipping lines and their political cohorts) for the sake of the national security and safety, and stop playing to the gallery.”