Stakeholders fault Customs’ import valuation method

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Anna Okon

Stakeholders in the maritime and real sector have faulted the valuation method adopted by the Nigeria Customs Service for imports.

According to some of them who spoke with our correspondent, the system is haphazard and a deviation from what is being practised globally.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a communiqué issued at the end of its council meeting had raised concerns about what it described as indiscriminate valuation queries of invoice of imported items by the NCS.

In the communiqué signed by the Director-General, LCCI, Mr. Muda Yusuf, the chamber claimed that the practice was informed by the NCS’s bid to improve revenue generation.

It noted that there ought to be a credible ground to dispute the value of invoice on imports, adding that most of the prices were global and easily verifiable online.

“In many of the instances, the actions of the NCS have no bearing with these global prices. Prices vary across different regions of the world,” it noted.

The chamber regretted the absence of a dependable dispute resolution framework to ensure speedy resolution of the valuation disputes and urged the Federal Government, the Minister of Finance and the Comptroller General of the NCS to intervene in the matter.

Stakeholders blamed the ‘Nigerian factor’ for the valuation dispute.

“In other African countries like Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo, the entire system is transparent, the values are published online; you check online, pay to the bank and get your receipt; you don’t have to see anybody. But in Nigeria, they believe that they have to negotiate everything. That is why most of the time, there is over-valuation for some people and under-valuation for others,” the National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr. Osita Chukwu, said.

He also said, “In Nigeria, people do things to favour people they know; in other countries, whether you know somebody or not, the price is the same. But in Nigeria, there is conflict of interest everywhere. If a Customs man buys a car, his colleagues may want to charge him lower duty while some other people will want to negotiate their duty downward.

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“Some people who are not educated enough to know when their goods are being over-valued would not ask for refund, instead they will just let the matter ride. Also, the foreigners are favoured in terms of valuation than Nigerians. While you cannot go to their countries and start negotiating duties, they can do that here without any issue.”

An importer, Eddy Akwaeze, described Nigeria as a country where ‘anything goes.’

He said, “Valuation is supposed to be done based on the Harmonised System codes of the items until when it gets to the physical examination stage and is discovered that the goods do not match the HS codes, then the officer is free to charge the importer; but in Nigeria, that does not apply.”

The practice, according him, is that if an importer knows that a senior valuation officer will charge higher, he will wait for the junior officer to get a lower price.

“When the valuation that has been done by the junior officer gets out to other officers, they will call their colleague and find out if he is the one who gave the importer that price and when that one says no, they will detain the goods and revalue them,” he said.

Chukwu said that the importer incurred a huge cost from this practice, adding that in the course of arguing about the right amount to be charged, the goods could be delayed and might enter demurrage.

Yusuf said that the practice of applying to the Customs headquarters in a bid to resolve the valuation issue was also costly to the importers.

He said, “The cost implications to importers arising from the delay include payment for demurrage, penalties and interest costs on loans.

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“The current arrangement whereby appeals are made to the customs headquarters is not in consonance with the principle of natural justice. The Nigeria Customs Service should not be a judge in its own case.”

Although the spokesman for the NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah, responded by saying that there were rules guiding valuation, which the service followed strictly and that valuation was calculated based on Cost Freight Insurance of the items, stakeholders insisted that there were no clear guidelines for the valuation method adopted by the NCS.

Yusuf said the officers imposed prices on items at will and from the prices they would calculate the duty.

“When an importer gives them an invoice for a particular item, say, a 2008 model Toyota (Corolla) costing $10,000, the Customs men will look at the invoice and declare that the price was not correct. They can then go ahead and say the cost of the car is $15,000 and calculate the duty based on the $15,000 instead of the price on the invoice,”

He said a lot of firms producing in the country were being frustrated by the practice, which he noted as negating the vision of the government on the ease of doing business.

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