Finance Minister orders suspension of $300m Customs modernisation deal

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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