- Fast Track goods, Reefer containers stuck at terminal
Following Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) decision to deactivate Five Star Logistics Terminal on the Customs portal, port stakeholders have lamented an impending huge economic losses to the nation and criticized NCS on the development.
According to industry stakeholders, several Fast Track goods and reefer cargoes are already stuck at the terminal following the sudden portal deactivation of Five Star, an action said to be a negation of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).
Worried by the fiscal and supply chain challenges from this development, economic experts have condemned Customs approach as the punitive action on the seaport terminal inhibits the operations of other legitimate service users at the port facility.
On Friday, the NCS confirmed that it deactivated the Five-Star Logistics Terminal access to its portal due to an unpaid assessment which is over N97million.
Speaking with News Diet, a veteran freight forwarder and member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Dr. Ikenna Nwosu described Customs action as irrational and a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) treaty on trade facilitation.
Nwosu also observed that there have been several cases of unpaid assessments at the ports as AP Moller Terminal and Ports & Cargo Handling Services have been guilty of the same crime previously, yet their terminals weren’t closed.
According to the economic expert, the cost implication of shutting the terminal’s access to Customs portal over N97million isn’t a wise move when one considers that the Five Star terminal enables Customs generate over N150million daily.
“This development calls to question the efficiency of Customs and the Service should unseal that terminal immediately. It is wrong to technically shut the terminal and disrupt trade because there was no prior notice for port users to stop sending cargoes to the facility. Customs can’t collect duties, yet stop people from accessing their cargoes,” he said.
Nwosu warned that consignees who have goods stuck at the terminal could sue the NCS over the impromptu deactivation of the terminal, even as he admonished Customs to go after the consignees responsible for the vehicle imports which have unpaid assessment.
Another freight agent who works at the terminal but preferred anonymity, revealed that the N97million being demanded by Customs for unpaid assessment borders on some vehicles which are suspected to have entered the nation via land borders.
He expressed dissatisfaction as the situation has brought discomfort to other port users especially those who have Fast Track containers and reefer cargoes stuck at the terminal, lamenting that Nigerian shippers will suffer additional demurrage costs even if the terminal decides to waive storage charges after the quagmire.
Meanwhile, he observed that few shipping companies make regular calls at Five Star with thousands of new and used vehicles and these shipping companies don’t transmit single manifests which allegedly led to the unpaid assessment being demanded by Customs.
Based on these observations, he advised Customs to carryout forensic investigation using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and stressed that CEMA stipulates that declarants, who are consignees and freight forwarders, should be held liable and not the terminal operator.
Nevertheless, owners of Fast Track containers at the terminal have become apprehensive over delayed delivery of their containers, while those with time-bound reefer containers have also started registering complaints over their consignments stuck at the terminal.
A source close to the former General Manager of Five Star Logistics Terminal, Mr. Wolfgang Schneider, told our correspondent that last year the former General Manager complained that Customs wrote to the company about the investigation but didn’t avail full details of the vehicles to enable Five Star carry out its investigation.
While Customs sent Single Goods Declaration (SGD) documents, names of consignees and the Demand Notices on the said problematic vehicles; he said that upon investigation, the vehicles for which Customs demanded unpaid assessment, neither manifested in the terminal nor discharged at the terminal.
The source also argued that Customs could easily trace the defaulting freight agents using VIN and wondered what role the Enforcement Unit of Customs played if the vehicles actually left the terminal without paying duties.
According to him, the action of NCS has shown that the Service is more concerned about collecting the N97million from the terminal, while the culprits roam free and nothing is done to prevent the anomaly from reoccurring.
Speaking with News Diet, during an exclusive chat, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf advised Customs to explore innovative alternatives to recoup their revenue without disrupting trade and supply chain.
Yusuf, who is also a former Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), argued that if a service provider commits an infraction or there are compliance issues, the matter should be addressed carefully in order not to transmit the consequences to innocent business persons.
“There should be a way to sanction a service provider without allowing it disrupt the activities of their clients. In this case, importers of reefer containers and fast track cargoes are innocent and shouldn’t be made to suffer the alleged wrongdoing or non-compliance of Five Star Logistics. It will be unfair to allow importers to pay and suffer the consequences for crimes they didn’t commit. We aren’t saying Customs shouldn’t sanction Five Star, but they can do it in a way that the consequences wouldn’t fall on innocent clients,” he said.
Industry observers, however, have noted that NCS has developed a propensity for shutting down terminals over similar unpaid assessments as Clarion bonded terminal, Classic Marine, among others have been shut down and forced to pay colossal fees as penalties in recent times.