From Fred Itua, Abuja
The Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff has revealed plans to investigate how over N4 trillion was lost due to revenue leakage in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). The period under review will cover 2006 and 2016.
In the investigation, the Senate committee will look into the tenures of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government will be probed.
The probe is coming amid a yet-to-be resolved face-off between the Senate and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd). The committee has, however, condemned the inability of the technical committee on the implementation of comprehensive import supervision scheme to ensure that the provisions of the Act are followed to the latter.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja, Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodinma, said the committee would stop at nothing in recovering any money lost due to lapses and infractions.
According to him, preliminary investigations by the committee revealed that the N4 trillion leakage was as a result of various forms of infractions, including abuse and non-implementation of Foreign Exchange forms.
He added that other factors responsible for the leakage were wrong classification of cargo under Harmonised System Codes, non-screening of cargoes coming into Nigeria and lack of adequate ICT infrastructure for revenue collection, stressing that cancellation of pre-arrival assessment reports and abandonment of single goods declaration were equally responsible for the leakage.
Uzodinma said: “The committee frowns at the quantum of revenue losses and it will stop at nothing in ensuring that those involved in this ugly act would return all recoverable monies with them.
“The committee also frowns at the level of collusion and corruption within the Customs Service. At the end of our current investigation, all these will become a thing of the past and Customs revenue will be enhanced and non-oil revenue will be improved upon.
“What we are investigating is not money spent. It is the leakages. For instance, I am supposed to pay XYZ amount of duty. I will abandon the documentation, go get fake documents, collude with Customs, pay, maybe, a fraction of it and carry my goods. With that, the true import circle is not closed.
“Another instance is that assessment is abandoned or I fill the Form M, for example, with a pro forma invoice, apply for foreign exchange in Central Bank, XYZ amount of money is allocated to me, money moves in but no goods shipped. I will then go get fake documents, collude with Customs and then retire the allocation.”
The lawmaker said the sharp practices, which include round tripping and false declarations, had over time led to increase in the exchange rate.
He stressed that in most cases, the amount of money spent was not commensurate with the number of goods being imported, adding that the committee had started investigating activities of companies and banks indicted in the matter.
He said: “We will not mention the companies involved because we are also very careful of the integrity and public perception of some of these companies, being that some of them are in the stock market. We will be diplomatic in carrying out this investigation.
“This is to the extent that little or damage will be done to the integrity and image of such companies provided that government revenues in their hands will be recovered.”
On the retrospective policy on payment of Customs duties on old vehicles, the lawmaker expressed dissatisfaction with the service for over-stepping its bounds by making policies rather than implementing them.
According to him, the power to make policies for the service was vested in the Ministry of Finance, adding that having gone through the legislations and books available, relating to the administration of the Customs Service, I discovered that the Customs only implemented policies made by the Ministry of Finance.
Uzodinma said: “It sounds very strange to hear that Customs gets up and says they are making a policy. That is what I am yet to understand and there is no way to fathom that before the law.
“The referral is already before us. I was waiting for him to appear before the Senate before we commence a full-blown investigation into some of those issues that have been referred to us.
“Concerning the suspended policy on payment of Customs duties on old vehicles, the committee will continue to interface with the service to ensure that the policy is cancelled, not suspended.
“The whole idea is about governance and governance is about the people and nobody is licensed or entitled to talk about the people more than the elected representatives. In my view, there is no hullaballoo. We will discuss with them and wise reasoning will prevail.”