Disagreements between concessioners behind new agreement in e-Customs project – FG

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From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The Federal Government has given reasons why the $3.1 billion contract for ‘complete’ automation of the Nigerian Custom Service, approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), in 2020 has been reversed.

It said disagreements between partners that formed consortium for the project, delayed its takeoff despite efforts by the government through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to mediate.

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Recall project which was approved by council in September 2, 2020 and awarded to Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited, was expected to last for 36 months, to enhance the agency’s mode of operation using the application of information and technology in all aspects of its administration.

“The main objective of this project is to completely automate every aspect of the customs business and to institutionalize the use of smart and emerging technologies that will enhanced the statutory function of the Nigerian Customs Service in the areas of revenue generation as well as trade facilitation and enhancement of security,” the Minister of Finance and Budget Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had told State House Correspondents shortly after the meeting in 2020.

Ahmed had explained that was to be financed by sponsors “who will in return look over the investment in the concessionary period of 20 years” while it has the potentials to generate up to $176 billion for the country.

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“So this investment of $3.1 billion is broken down into capital investment of $1.2 million which will be done in three phases over 36 months by these investors and $1.1 million is our projection of the operational cost over the 20-year period of the implementation of this project.

“This project has the potential to yield up to $176 billion of revenue for the project and the consortia that are providing this investment are going to be paid over time according to the schedule that is negotiated for their investments including their profits and cost,” she had said.

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Asked to explained the rationale behind a new e-Customs concession agreement between the NCS, Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and China’s Huawei Technologies Limited, Ahmed said: “The E-customs project was approved by Council. And there were some challenges that had to do with disagreements between the concession partners. Remember that government was not a partner of the concession, it was a group of different investing parties that came together and formed the consortium.

“The Attorney General and Minister of Justice has intervene. There were several number of meetings to try to iron out the difference. So it has to do with shareholders, who has what responsibility. And at the end of the day, I think one of the partners in the concession did not agree with the arrangements.

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“So the partner that signed was already in the initial concession. So that one party did not agree with the terms that are signed. And there is a new agreement that had been signed and that partner was reported to have opted out of the concession.

“I haven’t seen the report yet but it was reported to have opted out of being in the concession. So there is a new concession agreement that has been committed. And on the part of the ministry and I know Custom, what it means is that the implementation of E-customs project can now start with this resolution.“

The NCS Comptroller-General, retired Col. Hameed Ali, who signed the new contract, had explained that the NCS will generate a whopping revenue of $176 billion over the next 20 years through the implementation of e-customs project.

Ali reportedly said that the e-Customs concession project would ease the cost of doing business, boost revenue, enhance productivity and stop every arbitrariness in the service.

He said, “The $3.2 billion e-Customs project to be financed by the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and managed by Huawei Technologies Limited under a 20-year concession window, when fully implemented, would quadruple Customs’ current N210 billion monthly revenue collection.”

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