VIN Valuation: The Imperatives and Pains (2)
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
…Continues from yesterday
Ostensibly accustomed to cutting corners to short change government, non compliant traders believed to be the driving force on the protest, and whose noises appeared to have outmatched compliant traders who are prepared to give the system the benefit of doubt until a mutual level of satisfaction is achieved.
In matter of fact, Bomodi was of the view that only this group of disgruntled non compliant stakeholders has expressed negative attitude to the new initiative, and hell bent on the resolve that the surer approach to discounting the new system was to discredit it.
He also faulted the claim that stakeholders were not carried along at the planning and conception stage.
“Before the introduction of this tool, town hall meetings were held across the country stating its benefits, one of the greatest being trade facilitation. NCS was confident that this innovation in its clearing process will satisfy the desires of agents clamouring for change.
“The resistance to VIN-Valuation therefore comes as a surprise seeing that it was deliberately designed to meet their demands.”
Pained by the apparent attempt at sabotage, he disclosed that the service may consider probing the real intentions of those that have risen against the policy.
“It also compels us to investigate further the intentions of those protesting its use. Customs Administrations the world over have invested in simplifying, harmonising and automating their processes. VIN-Valuation is just one of those tools bringing us closer to an ideal trade environment.”
Checks by our reporter revealed that majority of those protesting are merely trying to live in the past, by refusing to dwell on the merits of the new policy while exaggerating perceived advantageous order of the old manual regime.
For instance, those protesting are said to have discovered to their disappointment that a vehicle they cleared with N500, 000 last year under the old regime is currently cleared with about N2million under the VIN Valuation system.
The reality is that the new regime has eliminated human contact with all its inhibiting negatives on optimal transparency and improvement in revenue administration, leading to correct valuation of imports. This is the sudden discovery that has produced the present bile and agitation.
In appealing for greater understanding Bomodi explained further inherent advantages of the new policy designed to deepens trade facilitation:
“Agents were duly informed about the workings of the platform. In truth it will really help to facilitate trade but cutting down drastically on time spent in obtaining manual assessments. I think we should all give it a try.
“The system uses AI to track the history of each vehicle using their VIN. The system will recognise from its VIN as having been earlier advertised at the above prices and will appropriate a value consistent with FOB, insurance and freight. There will always be a range of values depending on the mileage and usage of the vehicles in reference.
“This is why the VEHICLE IDENTITY NUMBER is important. This is also the crucial role AI plays as it evaluates data in real time using real values for specific makes and models of cars.”
Clarifying certain misconception about the place of vehicle chassis number in the evolution of the new valuation system, Bomodi tied it to the vehicle mileage, as an integral part of the VIN Valuation component.
“The values of used cars are subjective. However their mileage/usage/condition determines their book value. Every time Customs officers try to use deduction to arrive at values for cars they are often accused of being biased, selective or inconsistent in their judgment. This system is devoid of human interference but uses globally accepted data as evidenced in sales records clearly displayed by merchants of these items.
“We are not saying it (newly introduced VIN Valuation) is a perfect system, but we know it is closer to the truth despite the protestations.”
On the argument that used vehicles with its depreciated value account for larger percentage of vehicle import, and the insinuation that this reality must be reflected in the digital database, the customs spokesman said, customs officers play no role in the database formation.
“Its parameters are not dictated by Customs. It simply draws from live data across markets the world over. Pick any car make or model, Google it for price. You will see different options listed for sale on different sites. Choose a particular year, and input a particular value and see the numbers that will appear.
“You will be interacting with a system that is not controlled by Customs, yet the values you will get will approximate what our systems generate when you factor in freight and insurance. While you will achieve some success with your phone, you can be sure that our systems can accommodate a lot more data. That is what this whole stuff is about. Aggregating data and using a range of values.”
Bomodi noted that whereas the customs service is not unmindful of the economic situation in the country, its focus on digital systems cannot be warehoused side by side analogue protocols.
“If we have decided to tow the path that is driven by technology why can’t we embrace it and weigh the negative side with the positives?” he asked.
Giving a guided history of the clamour that led to the introduction of the e-valuation system, the customs image maker frowned at what he described as lack of sincerity on the part of the protesting agents and freight forwarders.
“A cursory review of online, print newspapers and journals focused on maritime related issues reveal certain curiosities among a few freight forwarding practitioners and clearing agents. In this peculiar group of individuals will be found those who demand the automation of Customs processes but still insist on human interference.
“They demand standardisation but prefer randomized values. They demanded the simplification of trade processes but prefer a little complication here and there. For this lot, the contradictions in their demands make sense so long as it translates to the payment of the least tax to government.
“Their propensity to give advice but not to take it smacks of hypocrisy and should be called out by well meaning Nigerians. The truth is that most of the individuals protesting the introduction of VIN-Valuation do not care about automation, simplification, harmonisation or even transparency in the system. They do not care about the well-being of the country or the industry they claim to represent.
“All they care about are the personal benefits accru-able from milking the system. They want to pay as little import duty as possible and keep the chunk of the monies for themselves. These persons advocate chaos rather than order. They thrive in wheeling-dealing environments where the price of everything is negotiable.”
The service spokesman assured that current leadership is not one to fall for cheap blackmail, even as he noted that the NCS under the leadership of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd) is poised to rewrite history by reinventing Customs operations in its entirety.
“The vision of this administration is to create environments conducive for facilitating trade that is consistent and predictable with little to non human interference. VIN-Valuation is only one in a series of innovations designed for this purpose. The earlier agents and importers come to terms with this reality the better it will be for everyone.”
While it is evidently understandable that those who never see anything good in the service were load enough to orchestrate the protest through unctuous lies and misrepresentations, it is equally gratifying to note that the plot to hold the port hostage through narrow conspiracies, was timely put asunder through heavenly benevolence that wrought confusion as the plot thickened.
It is heartwarming that the leadership of the Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Shippers’ Council as well indeed as the Customs have made appeals for the protesting agents to return to work.
Their consent to return to work with the clearance of general cargo has also been reported, following interventions by some government organisations like NPA and NSC, it is hoped that all stakeholders will demonstrate greater sense of nationalism by ensuring they key into the new policy until all suspicions and misunderstandings, which naturally attends to every new policy is addressed and eliminated.
Stakeholders have also urged the leadership of NCS to bend double backwards to open fresh dialogue windows for an all inclusive engagements to speedy the acceptance of the e-valuation regime.
A maritime resource person and freight forwarder of note, Dr. Eugene Nweke suggested that one of the best approach is to kick start the new policy on pilot scheme basis, that should begin with a RORO Port.
He says the pilot scheme will allow room to test run the policy, identify pressure points that there may be, re-calibrate and re-run for efficient delivery, before it is gradually escalated to other ports.
Also, Customs Area Controller, Tin Can Island Command, Comptroller Oloyede Kunle, who had series of engagements with stakeholders on the development, assured that the NCS is only interested in what is best for the country and the industry.
He urged agents and freight forwarders particularly to see the new policy as a necessary tool of customs modernization tailored to enhance trade facilitation, and nothing more.
A serving former area who does not want his name in print also urged port players and agents to see themselves as part of the modernization success story, and should not excuse themselves from the building process in raising the bar of service delivery and cost efficiency.
“We owe the nation a responsibility not to help propagate this negative approach to reforms and I say this without prejudice to stakeholders’ right to aggregate opinions that will advance their benefits, while also considering the benefits of the national economy.
“It is unfortunate that some persons’ whole desire is out to talk down the Customs. People need to be positive sometimes, it is not good that any time we talk it is always negative reports about the service as though the industry is not making progress.
“You gain nothing to continue to rage against the customs, to de-market the economy. Investors are reading the news with all the unnecessary alarms been raised, and they make business decisions based on them. I feel very sad for the level of misinformation some of us dish out there. We must have a change of attitude and be a little more patriotic in our actions.”