• UNBANNING OF 43 ITEMS BY CBN WILL REDUCED FALSE DECLARATIONS
• THIS PROFESSIONAL NCS IS PUTTING TRADE FACILITATION ON FRONT BURNER
Dr Farinto Collins Kayode is the immediate past Acting President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). He was also a presidential candidate at the recently held NECOM election of the Association. Since the conclusion of the election, which he lost in a controversial circumstances, which many alleged as betrayal of trust and money exchanging hands at the last minutes. In this exclusive chat with Dr Farinto Collins since after the ANLCA NECOM election, he spoke with Innocent Orok of Roamrepporters online on sundry issues , including after election issues, Forex, unbanning of 43 items by CBN, new Management of NCS among other challenging industry issues. Is a must read . Except.
Q: Former Acting President, can you tell us how life has been after the ANLCA NECOM election of which you were a contestant?
Farinto: To me nothing has really changed, is only that my work load have reduced. You know that when I was the Acting President, my office was running and is still running . So, to me nothing has changed.
Q: We have heard some side talks, which is normal after every elections. Can you tell us what really happened, why did you lost the NECOM election?
Farinto: In every contest, one person will win and one will lose, I don’t want to use that Nigeria factor, that when someone lost in a fight , he will say because the ground was slippery . There was a contest and I lost , the other party won, that is the way God wants it, is a lesson for any other contest I may participate. I don’t want to apportioned blames. There are rumours here and there, but have moved on.
Q: Talking about rumours, some have alleged that you still bear grievances over some of your trusted loyalists, whom you trusted so much,–
Farinto: (cuts in,) Don’t let us dwell on Beer palour jist, we will waste our time . I don’t have or bear any grudges against anybody. Everybody is an adult and everybody will account for his/ her deeds. I talk with everybody up till tomorrow. This morning ( Wednesday) Joe Sanni call me we chatted. I don’t have any issue with anybody and I don’t want us to start talking about all these things.
Q: Ok, let’s take a look at the 43 items that were recently unbanned for Forex by the CBN. Many have said that this is not the best way to go because some of these items are produced in the country. What is your take on this?
Well if you have been following me, you know that am one of the people advocating that the CBN is encroaching on the fiscal policies , that the CBN does not have powers to do what its doing. I give it to the CG of Customs . Because when he came onboard, he made efforts to lessened the problems to trade. These 43 items banned was encouraging false declarations, it has reduced our imports to about 30%, now our importations has gone down seriously.He submitted a paper to the new government , I give it to him , I also give it to few of us who actually pursue this issue of 43 items to be reversed. Going forward now, everybody should declare what they are carrying , excerpt the person is a perpetual smuggler. Few of us who have written and I give it to the new CGC who has gone extra mile to meet the Finance Minister to make sure these things are reversed.
Q: But don’t you think this will further create scarcity of Forex?
Q: Interms of the fact that when these particular items were banned from Forex , we were still struggling to get Forex?
How many Nigerian importers were able to accessed Forex abinitio? We are making mistakes and that is why we are not getting it right? Some of the economic drivers of this country , they deal on books and it’s doesn’t work like that. Whatever they are planning in the books, they want to implement it, it doesn’t work like that. What our government needs to do is just to say any import that is not valid for foreign exchange. They source their Forex in the black market. It’s only very few commodities that are valid for foreign exchange where there will be remittances. You can be talking about people sourcing for Forex through the CBN. And CBN will only regulate and look at that particular item. But this issue does not have anything more to do with that. But, it should be able to really affect our plans positively. I mean positively in the sense that we will be able to declare. I have a deal to bring in artificial grass, the man sourced his money in the black market, we remitted the money, but we were unable to open Form M and we had almost four or five weeks before we were able to open Form M, because you have to get approval from the CBN. In the four or five weeks that we are talking about now, we have already had new rates on the storage. So, it’s going to really affect our industry positively going forward. Talking about that, all the government needs to do is to look at data. The Customs should give us data on the goods that are valid for foreign exchange. How many people have actually gotten Forex? How many have done their remittances? We also must monitor this.
Q: How will it be possible for those importations to be made vis-a-vis the high rate of dollars and Customs duty?
Before now, if you are bringing in new tyres, you can’t declare new tyres because it is part of the 43 items and if you are bringing in new tyres, it depends on the size of the tyre you are bringing in. Before , I go to buy my new tyres , be it truck or commercial vehicle tyre, I should already know the rate of duty and also know whether it’s ‘levyable’ or not. Once I source for my dollars and I remit money, I should be able to open my Form M. But before now, you can’t do that. You will either declare the tyre wrongly or you call it another thing. This is actually encouraging the false declaration. So it’s even going to be better for us in the industry. Talking about forex scarcity, market forces now determine what happens to our forex and if market forces determine it, it’s better for us. Unlike a situation whereby, somebody on a Monday morning gets Forex on official rate, he’s not an importer; he is not adding value to the economy of this country and he sells at black market rate. Those are the people that are killing the economy.
Q: But at the same time, many believe that one way we can strengthen our currency, the Naira, is to increase our exports.
Yes, that’s it. There must be a balance of trade for both import, and export. There must be a balance of trade.
Q: Now, some of these products that the ban was lifted-off are products that can be produced here in the country, which we can export. Don’t you think we are going back to square one again?
We are not going back to square one. Everywhere in the whole world, there’s what we call protectionism. We don’t do protectionism and that’s why the government has brought the idea that if anything is produced locally here, we have Import Adjustment Tax, which are slammed on commodities to protect the local manufacturers. That alone is enough. If after the levies are slammed and you still believe that if you import, it’s better for you than the locally produced one, so be it. But let’s have an open system where anybody can have a free day and there’s no barrier to trade. There shouldn’t be barriers to trade. Before now, during the era of Buhari, we all know what imported rice used to be . But now, whether you like it or not, Nigerian-produced rice now is far better, if not better than the European one and the level of consumption and acceptability is higher on a yearly basis and weekly basis. So these are the issues. Let there be competition. When there is fair competition, when you are importing and you realize that the locally produced one is now having competition with your own, and you cannot beat them, nobody will tell you to leave it. That’s how it’s supposed to be in open markets. Not that you are now overprotecting. The people that you are overprotecting, you cannot really protect them. In economic terms, whether you like it or not, it will be affecting the Naira. Naira will be coming lean every day. You need to see the Naira now.
Q: Let’s move to the Customs management. What is your assessment?
Yes, I want to say that is the kind of customs we’ve been longing for; the professionally oriented one and somebody or a team that has risen through the ranks and not bringing in a soldier who doesn’t know anything about customs processes or customs administration to come and man customs. You and I will agree that we’ve never had it so bad in the last eight years. But in the last few months that the CGC has taken over, he has shown to the world and to the nation that he’s a properly oriented officer. Properly trained for the job and he has told everybody that care to listen that trade facilitation is one of his core principles and these are the things we want to be hearing.
The technicalities and the technical languages that we’re supposed to be hearing, which has been absent before, is now coming to the front burner. He has also advised Nigerian importers on the need to make sure that we’re patriotic by making sure you declare what you have. He has also removed some barriers to trade. This he did by encouraging and stating to Nigerian importers that the things that are actually making our cargo clearances to make double-time in our seaports. He has also, in line with the WCO, ensured that the CEMA has been passed, so that we can do what is called advance ruling. If you want to bring in this particular calculator from abroad, it’s a new product, and you don’t know how it is classified, and you don’t want to have problems with any customs formation, you just write to them abroad to bring in the product and the sample. That is called advance ruling and once an advance ruling is given, it is binding on Nigeria Customs Service in the next 12 months irrespective of whatever you are bringing, this is part of it.
These are the traces or indices of trade facilitation. Going forward, you can also see that he is thinking along our line. He knows that the issue of the 41 items on Forex restriction is encouraging false declaration. Now it has been unbanned, coupled with the fact that he also has input in it, going forward, we would have a situation where the issue of false declaration may be a thing of the past. It will fizzle out gradually. It is going to be like a diffusion. So we are going to very soon, by January, see a situation where we have a true declaration for our customs purposes. Honestly, I give it to him.
Q: The Customs CG has taken some decisions, one of which is the decision about imminent clearing of goods from Cotonou port. Do you think this is a right decision?
It is good. Even though I’m one of those that don’t even like it, because I’m one of those that is clamouring that we should have what is called indigenous clearing and forwarding. There should be a situation where we should be able to protect our jobs from foreigners. What it means is that if it is allowed, I can go to Cotonou port and clear. Invariably, a Benin Republic man can also come to our port and clear. Meanwhile, I’m an apostle of the fact that let us leave clearing and forwarding to the indigenous Nigerians. In a situation where Lebanese and Indians have taken over our job, it is not in the interest of this nation, and it is not assisting us.
The teeming youths roaming the streets, coming out of the universities and don’t have anything to do can actually join in. Anyway, it is a welcome idea, because we are going to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement era now. So there should not be a barrier to trade. All you see him doing is that there should not be a barrier to trade. Because when you now say you are confining a particular job to a particular indigenous citizen, it could lead to barriers to trade. But, God save Nigeria, whatever is good for us, is good for us.
Q: What did you think the Customs and the government should do to further lessen the burdens of export flow?
I think the problem we have apart from the fact that it is capital intensive, is that the delay on the export is not encouraging. Nobody wants to put his money for another 90 days and there is no result. I want to go into Sobo exportation now. I am going to get my Sobo from Kano. Before that consignment or the loaded container moves from Kano to Lagos, it takes two months.
If I am on a bank loan, what happens? These are the things the government needs to do and that is why our rail system must be functioning now to complement the roads. If we must succeed in the year of export, the cargo rail must begin to function. That is when it can meet up. If I have a rail and I know I will load my container on the rail, by the next three days it is already in the ports, I won’t have a situation. But, when you load on roads, we have the roadblocks and stoppages. Every state has a way of collecting taxes on consignments that are coming to the country and that is not too good for us. So that is why, if we must earn money on our exports, the government must be thinking along this line.
Let us have a very new rail. Bring a new rail line that has supersonic speed. Let it be a cargo rail. I prefer cargo rail than the ones that carry passengers because that is what can add to our economy. We have the opportunity of exporting because there are too many minerals in Nigeria that can be exported. We have lots in the North such as Zamfara State. But when moving them to the ports, the process is too cumbersome.
There are delays and there is extortion. Government must see to it. That is how we can have balance of trade and that is the only thing that can straighten the Naira. The government should begin to focus. Now that the Ministry of Transportation has been balkanized, we have a Ministry of Rail now; the Minister should focus on how we can have a cargo rail simply for cargo and movement of cargoes from anywhere in the country; at least two or three times on a weekly basis. You see Naira becoming stronger again. I went as far as investigating Sobo.
Sobo will cost me about 25 million Naira to export one by 40-footer container of Sobo. So, if I now go to the bank, say the bank gives me a loan, N25 million and I am unable to pay in 90 days. How do I remain in business?
Q: What is your assessment of the new Minister of Marine and Blue Economy? Many said he is moving at snail speed. Do you agree with that?
It is too early to do that. The man is just coming up and he has not even settled down. It is a new ministry that requires infrastructure, delineation and a lot of things. You can’t assess somebody like that. It is a ministry that did not exist before and does not have infrastructure. A ministry that does not even have an office. How can you rate him like that? You can’t rate him until everything is in place. There is no structure, no office. Most of the departments under him have not been delineated. Do not forget that some of the departments are reporting to the Ministry of Transportation and they are still reporting to the Ministry of Blue Economy .I put up a 10 page paper on this to assist the ministry and I have submitted it to them. He cannot be rated for now.