“Fast Track products and Reefer containers are stuck at the terminal”
Port stakeholders have expressed concern over potential significant economic losses to the country as a result of the Nigeria Customs Service’s (NCS) decision to deactivate the Five Star Logistics Terminal on the Customs portal.
Following the spontaneous closure of the Customs e-portal, some Fast Track items and reefer containers are reportedly already delayed at the terminal, in violation of the Customs and Excise Management Act, according to industry sources (CEMA).
Economic experts have criticized Customs’ approach as the punitive action on the seaport terminal limits the operations of other service users at the port facility. They are concerned about the fiscal and supply chain difficulties from this development.
An experienced freight forwarder who works at the terminal but requested anonymity told the News Diet that the N97 million in unpaid assessment borders on some trucks that are suspected of entering the country through land borders.
He bemoaned that Nigerian shippers will incur additional demurrage expenses even if the terminal decides to waive storage fees after the mess because the scenario has caused discomfort to other port users, particularly those who had Fast Track containers and reefer cargoes delayed at the terminal.
In the meantime, he noticed that only a few shipping businesses made frequent calls at Five Star with thousands of new and old vehicles, and that these shipping companies didn’t send individual manifests, which is apparently what caused Customs to demand payment for the unpaid assessment.
Based on these findings, he suggested Customs conduct a forensic inquiry utilizing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and emphasized that CEMA mandates declarants, who are freight forwarders, should be held accountable rather than the terminal operator.
In addition, a close source of Mr. Wolfgang Schneider, the former General Manager of Five Star Logistics Terminal, revealed to our correspondent that last year, Mr. Schneider complained that Customs wrote to the business about the investigation but failed to provide full details of the vehicles to allow Five Star to conduct its investigation.
He claimed that after an investigation, the problematic vehicles for which Customs demanded unpaid assessment had neither manifested in the terminal nor been discharged in the terminal, despite the fact that Customs had sent Single Goods Declaration (SGD) documents, names of consignees, and Demand Notices on them.
The insider also noted that the VIN might be used by Customs to locate the defaulting freight agents, and he questioned what function the Enforcement Unit of Customs would have if the vehicles had actually departed the terminal without paying taxes.
He claims that NCS’s behaviour has demonstrated that the Service is more focused on getting the N97 million from the terminal than it is about ensuring that the guilty are brought to justice and that the anomaly won’t happen again.
However, owners of Fast Track containers at the terminal have begun to express concerns about the delay in delivery of their containers, and owners of time-bound reefer containers have also begun to voice concerns about their shipments being held at the facility.
In an interview with our correspondent, Dr. Muda Yusuf, the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), suggested that Customs look for more creative ways to recover their losses without interfering with trade and the supply chain.
In his argument, Yusuf—also a former Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)—said that if a service provider violates the law or has compliance problems, the situation should be handled properly so as not to affect unwitting businesspeople.
“There ought to be a mechanism to penalize a service provider without permitting it to interfere with what its customers are doing. Importers of fast track and reefer containers are innocent in this situation and shouldn’t be required to pay for Five Star Logistics’ alleged malfeasance or noncompliance. Allowing importers to pay and endure the repercussions of crimes they did not commit will be unfair. We’re not saying Customs shouldn’t take action against Five Star, but they can do it without harming innocent customers.
“In terms of facilitating commerce and the resulting economic effects, I think this isn’t the wisest course of action. Who will be held responsible if a company needs raw materials that are stalled at Five Star and is unable to continue production? According to Yusuf, the spiral effect will cause congestion and disrupt the supply chain.
However, industry watchers have seen that NCS has a history of closing terminals due to unpaid assessments of a similar nature. In the past, the Clarion Bonded Terminal and Classic Marine, among others, have been closed down and made to pay exorbitant fines.