Technical challenges in the implementation of new customs transmission server has delayed fast clearance procedures and inflicted hardship on importers as hundreds of containers were trapped at the various port terminals in the last few weeks, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Importers operating in all ports in Lagos are facing hard time to clear their consignments under a new automation clearing platform of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) created to facilitate trade.
The new transmission platform introduced to aid smooth clearance of cargo at the various port terminals has been given the service sleepless night before it was further wrecked by windstorm few days ago.
The platform, called Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NCIS)II server is an improvement on the earlier automation processes such as Automate System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA), ASYCUDA 2.3, ASYCUDA 2.7,ASYCUDA ++, and NICIS I, which is a software specially created to enhance seamless cargo clearance.
Under ASYCUDA, agents could only make five declarations in one hour, but under the NICIS II, they can make up to 18 declarations within an hour.
Also, under NICIS I, customs agents could view what other control agencies such as National Agency For Food And Drug Administration And Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) are doing with their declarations. Similarly, they could actually interact with these agencies under NICIS II.
The new software had earlier been launched at Lilypond Terminal, Port and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) and Tin Can Customs Commands.
However its failure has affected cargo clearance at the ports in Lagos, Tin Can Island, and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) twice this month during a heavy downpour.
The disruption was more pronounced at Lagos Port, which handles the largest imports just two weeks when it migrated to the new platform after its trial at Lilypond, PTML and Tin Can commands.
Speaking on the challenges, the Assistant Comptroller of Customs in charge of Customs Processing Centre (CPC), Apapa command, Yahaya Muktar gave an insight into some of the challenges the command had faced since the NCIS II took off two weeks ago.
He declared that the migration from ASYCUDA system to NCIS II platform had caused a little disruption in revenue generation, however he said that the command had caught up on what was initially lost to the mixed up.
Also the assistant comptroller explained that the recent windstorm was part of the teething problems the new system was experiencing at the command.
He explained that the service had not been able to access any work because of the server failure.
Muktar said: ‘’We are having challenges and we have to abide by that. In any new introduction, there are human errors and challenges.
“For the first week, there was no revenue, on the second week when they got used to it, we collected N4.3 billon in a day which has now made up for the three days we did not have revenue.’’
He noted that there had been system error which has caused confusion and delayed fast clearance procedures.
At the moment, he explained that the Lagos Port had only one scanning machine and that this was not adequate for the backlog of pending containers to be cleared.
He also stressed that scanners were not working in some port terminals.
The assistant comptroller stressed that only one scanner was working in Apapa, saying that at Tin Can and other areas, there was no scanner functioning.
He complained: “Sometime, you write to inspection act and then when you trigger it, it will not come out complete. These are all system errors.
“Sometimes you raised Debit Note (DN) and when you want to input the DN, you find out the accumulation of the whole DN, which is what you have already paid and what you are now paying. It becomes confusing and without proper analysis of the problem, importers will be made to pay double in error.’’
Muktar acknowledged that the teething problems would gain foothold once the situation has been normalised.
According to him, “last two weeks, when Apapa rolled out the new system, there was no declaration because we are using ASYCUDA as pilot and the new system as new system and we have not started capturing. After a week, we stopped ASYCUDA from capturing; we used ASYCUDA system to discharge some of the pending jobs. You don’t capture on ASYCUDA, you only capture on NCIS II.”
He noted that many people were reluctant and afraid to come forward when the command first started the implementation of the platform because of difficulties.
Reacting, NCS’s Public Relations Officer, Tin Can Island Port Command, Uche Ejesieme, explained that the technical challenges being experienced in the NICIS II implementation were beyond Customs.
He said: “The challenges we are experiencing range from network issues to some technical issues but the good thing is that our technical partner, Webb Fontaine is working with the implementation team round the clock to ensure that whatever challenges that arises in the implementation is always nipped in the bud. We did not expect that it will just roll out and be perfect but in no distant time everything will fizzle out.”
Muktar explained that the command had to contact the committee driving the platform at the headquarters to resolve the errors in the system.
He added: “I had a meeting with the committee implementing the NCIS II application where we outlined some of the issues we have in terms of procedure.
Customs should address lots of the encumbrances in new automation cargo clearance.
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