Give us an overview of the Customs Post Clearance Audit (PCA) Unit, Zone A and how you achieved compliance in your task.
We deal with consignments or declarations that have already been exited form the ports within the Lagos zone, that is, Zone A. So, in essence we do targeting, profiling and once we profile and discover infractions or discrepancies, we normally write letters to the importers and their clearing agents. Then, we give them two weeks to respond to the letter. After expiration of the two weeks’ notice we normally send them a reminder, which is normally within a week.
Some, immediately they receive the first letter, will respond but most of them you have to send reminder letters before they respond. Some will not even respond until you block them from the system. Blocking them from the system is that you block them, using the Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) of the agent as well as his importer. So, with that they will be compelled to come and answer the queries of those declarations. Once their TIN numbers are blocked, they can’t lodge in new declarations. So, they definitely come forward and if they come forward, if it is an issue of Harmonised System (HS) code, we sit down with them, we show them based on their declarations in the system.
Blocking them is a strategy to enforce compliance as it prevents the blocked company from doing any transaction until pending issues are resolved. What they have declared, the inspection act done by the releasing officer and further research done on the exporter forms our guide in taking decisions. So, once underpayment is established, we go ahead and give demand notice (DN) for the shortfall to be paid.
There is this issue of improper address or people who have relocated after they made transactions. How do you track them?
I remember forwarding a list of about 60 importers and clearing agents that their addresses were not correct and the only way they come to respond is by this blockage. There is no way you can get hold of them except you block them. Normally what they were supposed to do is that when they change addresses they should write to Customs officially that “we are moving from address A to address B”, which they don’t do. Now, most of them are complying with that. In fact, some of them, as they are coming forward to answer their queries, you will see copies of letters that they wrote for change of addresses.
How do you resolve disputes in calculations between PCA and importers or agents?
If you look at the World Customs Organisation (WCO) standard working procedure for post clearance audit, it gives the person being audited rights. He has rights and we respect their rights. We can say we are arguing HS code for a particular item, he will disagree. He can write to CGC complaining that PCA identified that he has been carrying his consignment on a particular HS code and PCA is insisting on a different HS code. HS Codes determine percentage of duties to be paid. Wherever the HS Code changes, duty to be paid, may likely change too. So, once he writes that letter to headquarters, it will go through the normal channel. CGC will minute to DCG Tariff and Trade and she will minute to the Controller Tariff, so Controller Tariff will sit down look at it and classify correctly.
Sometimes it is sent back to us for our own input. Sometimes if people come here they will say no “we have been importing this particular item for a long time so it has to be on five per cent duty rate because we are manufacturers. But being a manufacturer doesn’t automatically make you to enjoy five per cent duty rate. Your raw material is another man’s finished products and your finished product is another man’s raw material. That is how it moves.
Do you trace declaration of several years back in the event that there could have been a mistake in the collection of duty or valuation?
Yes, we do if there is a need for it. The issue is ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Sometimes it can be a genuine ignorance and sometimes it can be deliberate. As an officer you cannot know everything. Wherever you find yourself as an officer, who wants to perform, definitely you must develop yourself. You must optimally read and do researches on various items being imported and processed. For example if you did not read chemistry you may not work effectively on chemicals being imported at the beginning as a customs officer but if you decide to develop yourself, you can be as good as somebody who studied chemistry or even an expert. The knowledge acquired on the job over the years contributed to their expertise. It’s not possible to know everything at a go. Knowledge increases with time and customs operations cannot be an exception.