Customs’ tool, Time Release Study, may fail again – Joe Sanni

Comptroller-General Adewale Adeniyi lecturing. Will he be able to convince stakeholders that TRS will not fail again?

The much-needed tool of the Nigeria Customs Service, Time Release Study (TRS), due for a relaunch today, Thursday, 8 February, 2024, by the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi, may fail again except the Federal Government provides the needed infrastructure in the port.

It would be recalled that TRS was first introduced in Nigeria in 2006 with high hope that the tool would lead to a timely release of cargo out of the port, but failed to do so as the port is dogged by a lot of infrastructure challenges.

TRS is meant to achieve efficient, cost-effective, and timely cargo clearance in the ports and border stations.

Speaking to PortNews in Lagos on Wednesday, a customs broker, Mr. Joe Sanni, a customs broker, said the relaunching maybe a futile one if some of these infrastructure challenges –  unstable network server services, human interface in cargo inspection, general non-compliance of imports, non-establishment of Standard Operations Practices (SOP) for government agencies, discretionary attitudes of Customs personnel, lack of data gathering units/departments to assist the process – are not tackled headlong by the government.

Joe Sanni said TRS has been dogged by game blame since its introduction in 2006 especially by the Customs. He said  the Chairman of the TRS Implementation Committee, Comptroller Dera Nnadi, at a Zoom meeting on Wednesday February 7, continued the blaming on a ratio of 30:30:40 to Customs, terminal operators, customs agents and other agencies respectively.

Joe Sanni however queried how Comptroller Dera Nnadi arrived at the blame ratio, saying “One certain thing is that this blame game has been on since TRS was first introduced in 2006.”

According to Joe Sanni, As TRS is about to be launched in Nigeria again, a lot still needs to be done to actualize TRS’ purpose in this clime.

One takeaway from Comptroller Dera Nnadi’s expatiation of the TRS and its raison deter, was the percentages allotted the various stakeholders responsible in the cargo clearance process, even though he emphasized that no hostages are intended in the purely interactive, enlightenment and education of stakeholders meeting, by way of engagement to be carried along.

A lot has been put in place since 2006, towards achieving Trade Facilitation and predictability (TRS) of exit of cargo from the ports, especially the compliant ones.

Some of these are the automation of stakeholders’ processes, establishment of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), likewise the introduction of the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) Version II.

All these have impacted positively on the cargo clearance process since then, and infact reduced cargo clearance time for compliant cargoes, while non-compliant cargoes’ exiting time remain unpredictable.

And now, the focus of the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy –Alhaji Adegboyega Oyetola, and the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) – Alhaji Bashir Adewale Adeniyi are trained on installing scanners in our ports through the involvement of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement and of course streamlining, harmonizing all other interactive processes. The PPP arrangement must not fail to incorporate scanners training facility and spare parts manufacturing unit for sustainability.

Another process that is sure to aid TRS to inch Nigeria towards global standards is the activation of Advance Ruling, as provided for in Section 24 (1-9) of the Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023, and the practical introduction and kick-starting of the scanning of cargoes directly from the vessel onto the terminals, for results/images to be analyzed immediately after, for further actions.

The new challenge that is bound to still keep Nigeria far away from meeting global standards in cargo clearing, in terms of timing, are the incessant server breakdowns, lack of Data over the years for analysis and profiling of imports, importers and stakeholders involved in the cargo clearance process and eliminating human interfaces.

With the preponderance of discrepancies in declarations, coupled with the already familiar human contacts and relationships between Customs Brokers and government agencies operating in the ports without any known SOP, it will be difficult to say exactly what time it takes to clear a compliant and non-compliant cargo, without automating the processes and activating the Advance Ruling concept.

TRS is achievable for AEOs (Authorized Economic Operators), as their cargoes are already deemed to be compliant and as such, as soon as their cargoes are discharged onto the terminal, they load and exit the ports. That timing is measurable.

For Nigeria to belong to the league of countries where cargo delivery time is predictable, especially for supply chain purposes, we must, but not fail to put some fundamental infrastructures in place.

If our supply chain management, our industries, our distributive systems must run seamlessly with very minimal disruptions, then the Ports’ infrastructure must be improved; automation of all stakeholders’ processes must be decreed into existence and made functional within months, as target.

Enough of this running around in circles. TRS is desirable for business decision makers, to leverage to keep their businesses performing optimally.

Nigeria must also aim at ensuring our ports works 24/7, by installing CCTV cameras and illuminating every nook and cranny of the ports.

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