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FG, Stakeholders Oppose Bill Seeking Customs’ Autonomy

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The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed and members of the organised private sector (OPS) yesterday opposed the passage of a bill which seeks to Repeal the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2004 and enact the Nigeria Customs Service (Establishment) Bill.

The stakeholders including the Association of Customs Licensed Agents (ANCLA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF); Mr. Lucky Amiwero, member of Presidential Task Force to reform Nigeria Customs and others unanimously expressed concerns during the public hearing on the bill organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise, chaired by Hon. Leke Abejide.

The stakeholders while expressing displeasure over the overlapping functions among various regulatory agencies, described the proposed legislation as draconian, saying any form of overbearing powers would erode citizens’ human rights.

In her presentation, Ahmed who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of Finance, Aliyu Ahmed, while expressing support for the modernisation of the legal framework for the administration and management of the Nigeria Customs Service to complement ongoing reforms initiated by the Ministry, however argued that the move to create an autonomous Customs regulatory body that is separate from the supervision of ministry was not in line with international best practice.

According to her, the Customs Administration in most developed democracies, “and indeed our peer developing nations is under the supervision of the Treasury, or the Ministry responsible for Finance or economic management, such as United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Ghana and Uganda.”

She said in the United States of America, the Customs and Internal Revenue Services had traditionally been part of the Treasury Department, reporting to the Secretary of the Treasury until the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, led to a fundamental repositioning of the Customs service under the Department of Homeland Security.

She said, “The contemplation of an autonomous Customs Service is in abeyance with extant laws regarding the treasury, supervision of the treasury and all agencies which remit funds to the Federation Account and the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

“In line with the Finance (Management and Control) Act, FMFBNP is the relevant authority charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the Customs and Excise legislations regarding trade and fiscal policies and where appropriate, apply other relevant provisions applicable to goods subject to such measures.

“The composition of the Board as proposed by the Bill is unwieldy with the inclusion of the Chairman and thirteen other members and the DCGs. Ministries like Aviation, Interior, Transportation and Foreign Affairs need not be represented on the Board. Also, the intention to replace the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning as the Chairman of the Board with an appointee of Mr. President subject to confirmation by the National Assembly, will limit the supervisory authority of the Federal Government.

“This is not in alignment with Section 80 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which creates the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the provisions of Section 4 of the Finance (Management and Control) Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria,”

Speaking further, the minister also kicked against move to empower the NCS to engage in border enforcement and regulatory activities, saying it was an infringement on the mandate of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) by virtue of the provisions of the Immigrations Act (2004) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, which empowers the NIS to act to protect Nigeria’s borders.

Continuing, Ahmed said: “The bill seeks to authorise the NCS to make regulations concerning the manufacture of beer, tobacco, carbonated drinks (etc) which is firmly an infringement on the provisions of the Nigeria Factories Act which places the mandate to oversee the manufacturing of certain products in the purview of the Minister of Industries, Trade and Investments and the Minister of Labour.

“In the context of a major reform of customs administration—including legislative changes, the degree of administrative autonomy required to support the reform needs to be considered. Increased autonomy does not automatically solve the problems of a weak customs administration and may lead to new problems if the newly autonomous administration is not properly supervised and made accountable to prevent leakages and abuse of power.

“At this stage of our development, especially given our peculiar political economy, a complete independence from the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is not desirable as it can lead to conflicts in the area of tax policy and revenue administration.

“Accordingly, since the activities of the NCS are directly related to fiscal and trade policies of the nation they should be subject to the direct supervision of the FMFBNP in line with the provisions of the Finance (Management and Control) Act and international best practices.

“The proposed law must be seen to clearly place the Customs Service under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning with clear reporting relationship and an unambiguous retention of the NCS original mandate of regulating the influx of goods and collection of revenue from customs and excise levies and fees.”

In his remarks, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila assured of the House determination to implement a wholesale reform of customs and excise operations in Nigeria.

In doing so, Gbajabiamila said, the House needed the support of the relevant stakeholders, whose contributions are critical in the legislative process that would strengthen customs operations.

He said the bill was the product of a coordinated effort by the House, working with stakeholders in the sector, to implement a wholesale reform of customs and excise operations in Nigeria.

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