Ease of Doing Business Low at Ports-Muda Yusuf
The Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Muda Yusuf has said that of all the sectors that the executive order on ease of doing business was meant to cover, the port sector of the economy has recorded least progress in the implementation of the order.
Yusuf who stated this in a lecture titled, “The Gains and Challenges of Presidential Order on Ease of Doing Business in the Nigerian Maritime Sector One Year After”, to mark the 2nd Annual Lecture and Awards of the Primetime Reporters in Lagos recently said that the Immigration officers at the airports had fared better in implementing and adhering to the spirit of the order adding that the port area was the most difficult of all sectors.
According to him,” If you look at all the ease of doing business issues, the area for which it has recorded least progress is at the ports. The Immigration man has done fantastic job, very passionate about reforming the immigration processes, the passport, the Visas, the issues at the airport, we are not there yet but there has been an improvement but the port area is the most difficult in all of these.
“A number of these ease of doing business requirements are not respected and the argument of the customs is that we are worried about security, that security issues cannot be traded off on the altar of ease of doing business but these things are not mutually exclusive. If you do your work properly, you can do it in a way that it cannot cause panic or create problems for businesses. That is the truth.
“Then there is the talk about 24 hour operations at Apapa port, today, is that happening? Of course, may be for some good reasons, there are issues about security, when you begin to move cargo overnight, there could be problem, of course the customs will not be there 24 hours, they resume at 10:00am and close at 5:00pm or 6:00pm. So, the issue of 24 hours does not even arise as long as the central players are not there. So, that is an issue.
“Then, we have the issue of the physical examination of cargo. This is an age of technology, all over the world, people use technology to simplify processes but we are not there at all. Scanners for several times wouldn’t work, there was even a time I had a discussion with a customs person and he said that scanner cannot work in Nigerian environment, that there are some cargo that people bring in that scanner cannot pick, with that, they continued with the physical examination but for how long can we continue to do that? People will use technology to simplify the process because part of the problems we have is that we are not using technology. The single window thing is technology driven but again where you have a system where some vested interest is embedded, unless you have very strong political will, it is very difficult to change such system”.
He however wondered why with all the revenues being collected from the ports annually, government cannot afford to procure functional scanners at all the ports which he believed would have made things easy for everybody.
The LCCI boss added that hinging the key performance indicator for the Nigeria Customs Service on revenue as against trade facilitation was not good for the country as according to him,” all that customs care about is meeting the revenue target and in the process, they create all sorts of problems for people who are in the business including the way they do valuation, including classification and totally neglecting even the trade facilitation responsibility of the customs”.
“So, I believe that they should even incorporate the trade facilitation responsibility as also a major performance indicator to assess the performance of the Nigeria Customs Service not just revenue because in the process of driving for revenue, all sorts of things happen and as long as they achieve the target, nobody cares what happens to the rest of the economy and sometimes, the damage to the economy is much more than the revenue that they realized.
“So, we need to move the target away from just setting target and also look at other ease of doing business parameters to measure the performance of the Nigeria Customs Service”, he added.
Yusuf therefore called on the stakeholders to support the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) in whatever way they could to ensure that they get the desired reforms in the ports saying that the reality was that PEBEC alone cannot do it, as they needed the voice of all stakeholders, “and we need to raise our voice loud and clear that things has to be done properly”.