COVID-19: Adopting automated port systems to check community spread
By Okey Ogoke
The entire world is under lock, quarantined, using the most popular words. Social distancing has also become the new paradigm, as people are compelled by the restriction order due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. It has become essential that people are confined to work from home, that tells you the world has become electronically driven, you either fall in or be left behind.
Since the presidential order that classified seaports as providers of essential services, a lot of people could not access the ports, either because of lack of public transport or simply to avoid contacting the deadly virus since the seaports are believed to be a high risk area,
The port operation remains one sector that has defied every effort to make it conform to electronic operational procedures as it is obtainable in other climes.it is not for lack of effort but because the organisations that should enforce the electronic operational procedures would rather adopt the much outdated manual procedure that suits them, because to a large extent, they insist on human interface for ulterior motives.
Recall that on October 6, 2008, the then Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Alhaji Hamman Ahmed, introduced Compliance Training Course for Customs Licensed Agents. The objectives among others include:
* To foster a holistic approach to reforms of the port sector.
* To reduce encumbrances in cargo clearance processes attributable partly to ignorance of the clearance procedures.
* To educate Custom brokerage agents on the use of electronic declarations for speedy processing through the Direct Traders Input DTI.
* To sanitise the sector bedeviled by various anti-trade malpractices.
* To assist in the attainment of 48-hour clearance time and reduction of cargo dwell time in the ports.
Participants were to sit for an assessment examination at the end of the course while certificates were to be issued to successful participants.
New licenses were also to be issued only to applicants who have attended and successfully completed the compliance course.
Each license holder was expected to train at least three persons, particularly those who operate simultaneously from different ports.
As noble as these objectives are, the programme was discarded as soon as the initiator,Alhaji Hammon Ahmed retired having put in 35years of service.The participants were not given certificate of participation, even though examinations were conducted even as every participant was made to pay N35,000.
My belief is that if the programme was sustained, it would have taken clearing to a much higher than what the CG had projected. For instance, in this period of lockdown all agents would have been issued code to access Customs platform via the DTI, to make declarations and other transactions seamlessly online from the comfort of their homes without having to go the ports.
I also believe that cargo clearance should have been electronically driven much more than what it is presently devoid of human interface. The long anticipated 48- hour clearance would have been attained.
There is therefore urgent need for all stakeholders to put national interest far and above selfish interest. For Custom officers it would have created a timeline for the clearance of consignments. It would also have been able to take operatives of the Federal Operations Units FOU of the service out of the highways waiting for already cleared goods from the seaports.
The bottomline is that we have to do away with out dated/archaic processes that we have persistently inclined to, which include among other things, physical examination of imported goods as against the use of scanning technology.
To be able to forgo this old practice, we need to have functional scanning machines, so as to scan all cargo coming into the country. This is with a view to enhancing fast track of consignments while those that are classified as high risk should be examined at the consignees’ warehouse.
E-clearing is simply the way to go if we need to achieve 48-hour clearing timeline or even less.
It would simply require that payments are made online,that supposes that all charges both shipping and terminal charges are sent to the account that opened the Form M, as soon as these payments are made and receipts transmitted to both Customs and the shipping company, which at this stage would be in custody of the original bill of lading ,the shipping company promptly transmits the delivery order to the terminal that would in turn transmit the document to the consignee, while the consignee hands over the printed Terminal Delivery Order TDO to the brokerage agent, who should hand over to a truck operator for entry into the ports and subsequent delivery.
Adopting the Customs training as a major prerequisite for issuance of customs license will eliminate the commercialisation of licenses as it is the current practice where it is meant for money bags, it would tend to give the practise a proffessional outlook.
As the world is a global village, there should be a link between the banks that generate Form M, where fees will be paid to the shipping company, the carrier of the consignment and the terminal operators, that way, from the Form M to duty payment upto delivery,you don’t need to interface or even go into the seaports, except for delivery.
The way clearing is practiced presently would make for community transmission of the virus.
It is about time the various associations in the ports put away their ego and come together to pursue common interests.
As the Apostles told the Christians in Corinth, in the last days people shall say,I belong to Appolous, I belong to Paul but same God.
Surprisingly, these leaders don’t have their children in this trade, meaning, they have no legacy to leave behind. The change we expect should be electronically driven with set goals.
*Ogoke, a logistics and supply chain expert, writes from Lagos.