Stakeholders in the maritime industry have kicked against the proposed merger of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
Rising from an extra-ordinary meeting of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) in Lagos at the weekend, its President, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said the core mandate of the NCS is not revenue generation but trade facilitation in an increasingly technology-driven world.
To him, the difference between the two agencies is much and they cannot work together because of coordinated border management and the need to simplify the multiple regulations and inspections at porous border stations across the country.
The Act which established the NCS, he added, is quite different from that of the FIRS and a new Act is needed ‘to marry the two strange bed-fellows together.’
He said what the Federal Ministry of Finance and the FIRS needed to do was to create a joint pro-business environment that would balance the needs of revenue collection and the facilitation of trade.
Having played an important role in the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), he said the NCS needed a close working relationship with FIRS to boost revenue.
Customs, he said, is a paramilitary organisation while FIRS is just a tax collector. “Customs is not a tax collector but a revenue generator,” Shittu said.
The ANLCA chief said instead of a merger, the two agencies should create a platform where all revenue accrued to Customs at sea ports, airports and border stations would be seen by the FIRS officials.
The ministry, he said, should insist that Customs must have a benchmark for all its transactions at ports so that its officials and tax evaders would no longer be able to manipulate the system.
According to him, the benchmark would promote transparency and reduce leakages in the system.
FMoF and the FIRS, ANLCA said, should also come up with a paperless transaction model that would make it possible for their officials to get simultaneous alert and information as importers or their clearing agents pay their duty and other charges to the banks.
He said:“The core mandate of Customs is to facilitate trade, curb smuggling and generate revenue. Its mandate in terms of responsibility is higher than the mandate of FIRS which is just to collect all revenues that is going to the Federal Government.
“Trade facilitation has become a major role seen by governments across the world as a crucial element of their economic policy, with the Customs occupying a unique position within the international supply chain of goods and services.
“Customs has an enlarged role to perform in terms of competitiveness, speedy delivery of services and legitimate trade facilitation in a global environment harbouring a litany of threats like smuggling, cross border crime, money laundering and importation of injurious and hazardous substance to the port.
“What we expect the FMoT and FIRS officials to do, is to formulate tax reform policies that must be implemented by Customs and other revenue collecting agencies.
“It is not only Customs that collects revenue on behalf of the government at ports. The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and other government agencies also generate revenue at ports.
“What are they and the protagonists of merger going to tell Nigerians concerning the structures of NPA, NIMASA, NSC, SON? Are they saying the government should merge them without regards to their core mandates and independent functions they are known for internationally?”
He said Customs duty may be a component of revenue to the government, but there are other Customs functions which are non-revenue collections such as enforcement of anti-smuggling and contraband initiative as well as the arrest and prosecution of smugglers.
An importer, Mr Malik Ayeni urged the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun to make the opening of ‘Form M’ mandatory for all importers to know the expected revenue that will come through the process.
He condemned the practice which allowed importers not to follow the import Form M guideline and travel abroad to bring in their items into the country and subject the goods to single declaration process.
“It is through the single declaration process that the Customs will physically inspect the items and also value it and that is the point where revenue leakage occur because it is what they value that the government sees as its revenue but nobody knows what has gone under the table before the value was given.
“Will the merging of Customs and FIRS solve this problem? The answer is no. What the FMoF and FIRS need to do therefore, is to insist that every Bill of Laden must henceforth reflect their Form M number to block leakages.
“Also, FIRS should look into the excise duty rate and see what is being imported for Customs to apply the duty rate appropriately,” Ayeni said. The Nation