The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) inaugurated a pre-shipment inspection programme known as Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) in December 2013 as an import document required for clearing of goods at the ports.
The scheme replaced the Risk Assessment Report (RAR) issued by an erstwhile service provider, following the expiration of its contract.
It is an Information-Technology based (IT) portal that most importers describe as non-restrictive online medium for the purpose of easier classification of goods.
Through the portal, trade processors are enabled to find exact harmonised system codes required for related tariffs and duties.
Because of its features, observers note that PAAR is one of the best innovations of the present NCS management to transform and modernise the process of importation and clearing of goods at the ports.
They note that it will advance compliance by traders and avail them the required information on tariff in areas such as the prohibited items and taxes/levies due for payment upon importation.
According to them, it will also simplify the entire trade process by providing information and guidance for international trade business processors in the areas of import, export and transit trade.
At its inauguration, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi, said that the clearance document would not take more than six hours after submission of final documents from the bank to issue PAAR.
He said that the Federal Government directed the NCS to take over the destination inspection process from the former service provider which meant a transfer of import and export procedures to the service.
He appealed for understanding and cooperation among the traders and importers in the event of initial hiccups that the service might face in the destination inspection process.
“The new regime we are starting today promises better management of our revenue generation operations.
“It will enhance trade and collaboration among other agencies of government to promote national security.
“As we take over these processes, we will anticipate some hiccups at the beginning before we can fully stabilise.
“However, as a service, the management has taken measures to address these risks and manage them to the advantage of our stakeholders.
“We are pleading for the understanding of all Nigerians that whatever hiccup faced at the initial stage should not create anxieties,’’ he said.
This assurance notwithstanding, observers insist that within few months after the service took over the destination inspection function from the service provider, there have been several complaints of delays by importers who claimed that they could not obtain PAAR within a month.
But Abdullahi explained that delay was occasioned by the backlog of over 99,000 previous clearing documents that were not treated before NCS took over.
He, nonetheless, said that the service recently upgraded its system to a new application and enhanced the capacity of its officers which led to an increase in the number of PAARs generated.
He noted that normalcy had since returned to the ports environment after the service overcame the teething problems encountered at the beginning of the scheme.
He observed that during the recent International Customs Day, the service issued 273,148 PAAR documents out of 291,156 applications received in 2014.
Abdullahi added that the successful implementation of PAAR scheme resulted in the collection of N977.09 billion into federation and non-federation accounts in 2014, representing an improvement over the N833.39 collected in 2013.
According to him, PAAR has delivered on the promise of generating revenue for government within the first year of its implementation by NCS.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Abdullahi Babani, NCS Controller of ICT, said that the PAAR software was designed to efficiently handle import on the basis of pre-arrival of cargo, thereby facilitating trade, ensuring security of the nation and improving revenue collection.
He said that with PAAR, importers did not have to wait for their goods to arrive in the ports before processing their import document.
He said that when the service was taking over the function from the service provider, it promised the business community that PAAR would be issued to them within six hours of filing necessary documents.
Babani said that the service would not take more than three hours to process to PAAR for a complying trader.
“There is no reason for any customer to complain for delay in clearance of his cargo unless he or she is having issues on non-compliance,’’ he said.
Babani insisted that there had been tremendous improvement in revenue generation considering the recent performance of the service with more than 20 per cent increment in revenue collection.
“We are able to overcome the challenges quickly because of the sound research effort and energy in the development of the application and in capacity building of officers who operate the system,’’ he said.
In his view, Dr Emmanuel Oparah, the National Secretary, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), said that NCS had demonstrated high level of competence in handling pre-shipment inspection.
He noted that the Federal Government was losing money when the destination inspection was in the hands of a service provider.
He also said that PAAR scheme had blocked all the possible revenue leakages and delay in cargo clearance hitherto associated with the old regime.
Oparah said that the issue of server breakdown was a problem to the service, observing that the network functioned according to the weather which could not be blamed on anybody.
Also, Mr Sanni Usman, the Chairman, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Abuja Chapter, opined that the introduction of PAAR scheme had eliminated demurrage and other extra charges on cargo clearance at the ports.
He observed that importers usually suffered unnecessary delays when destination inspection assignment was with a service provider.
All in all, concerned citizens insist that NCS should live up to its mandates by giving impetus to the deployment of Information and Communication Technology solutions to aid its operations in line with its transformation agenda.

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