By Steve Agbota
About 60 containers of agricultural equipment have been trapped for three years over disagreement between the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and its supervisory ministry, Federal Ministry of Finance.
The containers belong to Josepdam Port Service, operator of terminal A, at the Tin Can Island Port complex in Lagos.
Investigation has showed that the Ministry of Finance has granted Josepdam waiver on some agricultural equipment imported into the country but, the Customs Service has refused to release those containers thereby accruing storage charges at other terminals and demurrage on the containers.
The equipment, which were basically for the construction of silos in the terminal were still trapped thereby affecting the efficiency of the terminal.
However, the Customs Service said the waiver was granted the company in error by the Ministry of Finance.
Speaking on the development, the Deputy Managing Director, Josepdam, Ganiyu Kuteyi lamented the storage and demurrage charges accrued by the operator for the past three years.
According to him, the ministry have asked the servive to release the cargoes since they are agricultural items to be used for conveying wheat, malt and other items into the silos.
“The ministry of finance has given us a waiver that covers all our equipment that is on ground including the one that are outside our terminal, TICT and Port and Cargo.
“We have accrued so much demurrage on them due to this releasing issue. Customs are refusing to release the items and the ministry of finance has questioned Customs on why they haven’t released those items and they are still unable to respond to the ministry of finance’s query,” he added.
Kuteyi further disclosed that the finance ministry has directed the service excellence to release the equipment if they have no response to the query on why the equipment shouldn’t be released.
His words: “The ministry of finance has, however, said if the Customs can’t respond and give accurate answers to the query, then they should release the consignment but, they are yet to release. Also, there is no reason not to release the containers because we have paid the duties to be paid on them.
“They want us to pay duty on items that are already waived by the ministry of finance and I can tell you that the items are agricultural items, they are for conveying wheat, malt and other items into the silos that we are about to install.
“We have discussed with the Tin-Can Island Customs Area Controller (CAC), and we believe the ministry of finance will engage the the Customs Comptroller General. But, the customs keep telling us the items are not agricultural items or not for agricultural storage which we have countered so many time,” he said.
Kuteyi, however, said no valid reason for the continued holding back on to their cargoes after making necessary payment and securing waiver from the appropriate authority.
“We want them to put pressure on Customs to release our containers, we have paid all what we are expected to pay. We have a legal waiver so, no reason for holding on to the containers.
“All together, we have 60 containers with the service that is yet to be released. We have 50 in our terminals, five in TICT and five with Port and Cargo terminal. The about 50 containers we have in our custody, we can’t touch it and we are trying to bring those at other terminals inside so that we can stop accruing storage.
“I appeal to the ministry of finance to prevail on Customs to release the containers so that we can start our installation, we can start mounting our silos and fixing the purveyors and Vigan. We want the finance ministry to put pressure on Customs to release our cargoes,” he stated.
Responding, the public relations officer, Tin-Can Island command of the service, Uche Ejiesieme said the command’s CAC has informed the headquarters that the waver was given to the terminal operator in error.
He said: “With respect to the issue of Josepdam, the command believed that the import duty exemption certificate granted the company under agriculture concession may have been In error, hence the dispute.
“However, as a proactive measure and in line with trade facilitation principles, the customs Area controller has escalated the Issue to customs headquarters for resolution and we await the decision of the headquarters on this dufficing that it has gone beyond the command.”
“We appreciate the strategic relevance of Josepdam in the trade value chain and we cannot afford to deliberately delay release of a consignment which documentation we believe is questionable,” Ejiesieme said.