‘Customs must be accountable for damaged scanners’
The sorry state of the ports scanners has continued to raise concerns among stakeholders, who insist that the Federal Government must probe the events that led to the collapse of the N9.2 billion scanners handed over to the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) eight years ago.
Cargo scanning or non-intrusive inspection (NII) refers to non-destructive methods of inspecting and identifying goods in transportation systems. It is often used for scanning of intermodal freight shipping containers.
The collapse of the highly sensitive equipment has made cargo clearing more tasking due to prolonged delays, aided corruption and allowed for illegal clearance of arms, ammunition and other unwholesome goods into the country.
A prominent terminal operator told The Guardian that the lack of scanners at the ports is delaying cargoes clearance and therefore undermining the realisation of the 48 hours a cargo clearance agenda of the Federal Government.
The operator, who spoke in confidence, argued that the physical examination is archaic and huge burden on the officers in charge, as one container can take up to four hours to be cleared.
“This will amount to a cumbersome process and eventually create overhang cargoes. For us as terminal operators, we earn more money because the importers will pay for demurrage and it adds to our pocket,” he said.
The Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, recently admitted that the scanners were bad, but insisted on 100 percent cargo examination to ensure that no offensive consignment got out of the ports.
He noted that after examining the scanners, only two can be immediately repaired and put to use but the others will be repaired over time.
“With the ones we have now, we have done scrutiny on them and two of them can be repaired and put back, but we need to replace most of them. We have problems with the scanners because most of them are not working; we are working diligently to replace them. By God’s grace by the end of this first quarter, we will have scanners at our ports.
“Paucity of fund has been part of our problem but we are working diligently to ensure that we get scanners into the ports and the borders,” he said.
But the National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, told The Guardian that there is no need to buy new scanners, to repair and upgrade the existing ones.
He alleged that the officers played a major role in damaging the equipment, saying: “The Customs took over those scanners from the service providers and they are the one who spoilt the scanners, they must be accountable for it.”
The Customs agents, in a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, had called for a probe into issues that led to the breakdown of the scanners.
The letter dated February 13, 2017 stated: “The present state of the scanning equipment at the ports is a total neglect from the government agency who supervised the transfer.
There is the accommodation of six months maintenance, labour and spare parts after handover, which should have transferred almost a new equipment to the government going by the provision of Article 4.2 and 4.3, that requires any faulty parts to be replaced in line with the agreement.”
The agents therefore called on government to setup a committee to reassess, the trade facilitating tool (Scanner, VSAT and IT platform) by auditing the scanners, which were supplied by the service providers under the Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) agreement with the Federal Government, to be maintained and put back into operation.
“We hereby request for expert auditing of the scanners in the port with some selected members of the Reconstituted Presidential Task force, who understand the reform process to evaluate the state of the scanners for it to be put back in operation,” the letter stated.
The acquisition of the scanner was contracted under the Destination Inspection Scheme between the Federal Government and some service providers. They include Inspection Limited, Societe General de Surveillance (SGS) and Global ScanSystems Limited, on a Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) basis, for a period of seven years from the January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2012, which was extended by one year by the government.
The agreement also included the provision, installation, operation and management of x-ray scanning equipment and software for the examination of goods, as contained in Articles 4 to 4:3. This provides for ownership of the equipment during the duration of the contract and the transfer to government, with most of the fixed scanners commissioned from 2010 to 2012.
Cotecna’s included two of 9.0MeV Dual View fixed scanners for Apapa and Tincan ports; Global Scan 9.0 Mev Fixed Scanner at Seme Border, and SGS No.9.0MeV Scanner approved for Onne Ports.