THE Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, has directed the suspension of a $300m Customs modernisation deal.
The directive comes on the heels of a resolution and letter addressed to the minister by the House of Representatives.
In a letter titled “Suspension of proposed concession arrangement for the Customs modernisation project”, jointly signed by Chairman Finance, James Faleke; Chairman Public Petition, Jerry Alagbaoso, and Chairman Customs, Yuguda Hassan Kila, the lawmakers described the proposed concession as “curious.”
The letter with reference number NASS/CHR/9/2019/JOINT/001 dated October 30, 2019, sources disclosed, led the minister to direct the Permanent Secretary to ensure compliance.
According to the letter, “the House of Representatives on Thursday 10th October 2019 at the plenary passed resolution No. HR132/10/2019 mandating a joint committee on Finance, Customs and Public Petitions to investigate the curious proposed concession agreement between the consortium Bionaca Technologies West Africa Limited- (Sponsors), Bergman Security Consultant and Supplies – (Cosponsors), African Finance Corporation (lead financiers) and Huawei (lead technical service provider).”
The lawmakers added that their action is pursuant to Section 88 (1) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which confers on the National Assembly power to conduct investigations.
They urged all parties involved including the Nigeria Customs Service and Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission to maintain the “Status quo ante pending outcome of investigation.”
On October 10, 2019, Alagbaoso moved a motion that the deal be investigated and his motion was agreed upon via a unanimous voice vote by the House.
Alagbaoso said: “There are some foreign companies who are very eager to sponsor, finance and provide technical services to what they call the modernisation of Customs, without recourse to the National Assembly.
“My motion is the need to investigate the curious concession proposed arrangement between the consortium Bionica Technologies West Africa Limited, who are the sponsors; Bergan Security Consultants and Supplies, who are cosponsors, African Finance Corporation, who are lead financiers and Huawei, Nigeria Customs Service and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for customs modernisation project.
“The House is aware that various customs modernisation projects in the past. For example in the 90s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for the installation of ASYCUDA++ and training of customs officers for three years.
“The House is also aware that the Federal Government agreed to engage former pre-shipment companies for valuation and classification of goods, hence some service providers namely Webbfontaine, Cotecna, SGS and Globalscan were engaged for that purpose.
“This contract was to last for seven years, from 2005 to 2012 when the service providers handed over to Nigeria Customs Service.
“By 2011, one could say the positive effects of this included competent and committed workforce for Nigeria Customs Service, personnel understanding of the new process and benefits to stakeholders.
“It resulted to collection of proper revenue due, elimination of corruption and other benefits. The House notes that with these put in place, there exists a one stop shop which allows all trade transactions to be conducted through a single system domiciled with the customs.
“For example, all other government agencies like NAFDAC, SON and the rest have dissolved into a single platform with the Nigeria Customs Service.
“In 2011 there was an illegal concession between the Federal Ministry of Finance and a company with inadequate capital base called Single Window System and Technologies, signed in secrecy during the government transition period and this House of Representatives had a public hearing and stopped it to save Nigeria billions of Naira Vide the votes of Wednesday, 13 July 2011, the House.
“In 2017 another move for customs modernisation was made by the Technical Committee on the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, purported to be acting on behalf of the Federal Government called Adani Systems Nigeria Limited to modernise, maintain, develop the scanning of goods in the country in line with the pre shipment inspection act for a period of 25 years.
“Again the attention of Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service was drawn to this and the concession was stopped.
“Curious that in September 2019, another concession, which will last for twenty years (that is the subject matter now) is being suggested to Nigeria Customs Service, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Federal Ministry 0006169155 this agreement is for pro-rata sharing of one percent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme and a $300m investment.
“Worried that billions of Naira will be frittered away from the account of the one percent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme with the Central Bank of Nigeria, regarding the cost of this latest customs modernisation by different parties involved.
“Further worried that there is no difference in substance, scope and structure between the failed concession attempts of 2011, 2017 and this 2019.
“There is already a national single window platform in the Nigeria Customs Service and officers of the service are performing beyond expectations, collecting duties in billions of naira on daily basis.
“Convinced that the Federal Government is being misled by advice on this one percent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, which has accumulated in billions of naira in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“A motion for CBN to account for this money was moved in the 8th assembly, the house therefore resolved to mandate the committee on finance, customs, public petitions, committee on agreements to expose the foreign and local collaborators involved in this project either as sponsors, cosponsors, financiers and others.
“Mandate the CBN to account for the funds between 2012 and now and urge all parties involved to maintain status quo until the outcome of the public hearing and report back in three weeks.
“Three or four foreign companies are bringing their selfishness into our national agenda. The fact that it failed in 2011, 2017 there is no way it cannot fail in 2019,” Alagbaoso said.