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What is the problem with Customs e-auction platform?



Chinazor Megbolu    |   

Recently, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) re-opened its electronic Auction platform where vehicles and other items impounded by the Service were displayed for purchase by members of the public.

This system is a departure from the manual process and smacks transparency since every individual will have equitable opportunity to participate.

Be that as it may, there have emerged complaints from participating community over its efficiency.

Even though, the managent of NCS has said that the programme was a success, it was a bitter tale for some of the unsuccesful applicants.

The Service blamed the problems on Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) of applicants for their unsuccessful bids even as the Service displayed the names of successful winners of the bid in a press statement.

Though the e-auction portal which took effect from 2017, has been marred by one challenge or the other as with ICT globally, the recent exercise was announced by Public Relations department of the Service in a press statement.

The requirements include; a non-refundable administrative sum of N1,000 and a viable TIN.

The National Public Relations Officer (NPRO), Mr. Joseph Attah, in the statement, said: “Following the re-engineering of the Nigeria Customs Service e-auction process, the electronic portal is now opened (live) for interested persons with valid Tax Identification Number (TIN) to log in and bid for items of their choice”.

“For the current window, the bidding period opens 12 noon Monday and closes 12 noon Wednesday every week.

“Please note that the process is fully automated and requires no physical intervention of any kind to win,” he submitted.

However, some of the unsuccessful bidders complained that the web portal would not accept their TIN.

In the controversial circumstances associated with accessing the portal, several complained of not being able to sort out the TIN and the inactive e-mail site.

Many reached out to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) for reconfirmation and found out that the problem was not from there.

Speaking on the development, a Chieftain of the Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Pius Ujubuonu in a chat, said that any organisation that skewed, will always give frivolous excuse for its failures.

According to him, the challenges experienced are artificial because of alleged vested interest by some of the  parties handling the process.

Acording to him; “The people handling the auction have vested interests to cover up wanton manipulation. 

“The persons saddled with the responsibility would come up with excuses, saying that TIN numbers could not upload.

“It sounds ridiculous to adduce that as excuse when the TIN numbers are accessible even in the processing of SGD in customs clearances, formalities and now for auctions”. 

Ujubuonu stressed that such action by the NCS has become awkward and impossible, adding that they can tell that to the marines.

He further hinted that the bottlenecks and hiccups smack of antics of corruption by the agency.

“The Nigeria Customs outsourced their network and the website warehouse to web Fontaine. Ever since, we have always had the intermittent server failures sometimes, for days and weeks. 

“Unfortunately, our courts are such that do not expedite redress system.

“The trader is often subjected to humongous demurrages and high storage rents caused by these system failures,” Ujubuonu said.

He maintained that the biggest challenge to e-commerce in the country is incompetence and regular power outage.

“The biggest impediment to e-commerce in Nigeria is incompetence and lack of regular electric power supply. Sometimes, incidents of corrupt manipulations may not be ruled out,” he said.

Ujubuonu however, suggested that the way forward towards economic revamping is fiscal responsibility and deliberate plan towards boosting production both articles and primary products such as agricultural produce and services. 

“For instance, investing in youths heavily in areas of ICT and of course, steps towards stimulating local and international trade will go a long way to checkmating the challenges.

“These are easily stimulated through relevant, ambitious provision and maintenance of infrastructure around the strategic areas,” he said.

In a similar vein, the President, Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers (NIFFCB), Dr. Zebulon Ikokide, said that the hitches experienced had nothing to do with the TIN but that the handlers have little or no knowledge of the system.

Ikokide who believes that the auctioning of seized items should be outsourced, stated that the officials of the Service, would be tempted to sell to their cronies.

Ikokide also averred that TIN have nothing to do with the NCS e-auction, adding that those at the top leadership knows nothing when it comes technical expertise.

According to him; “My question is; what does TIN have to do in auctioning  exercise? 

“I think, I will agree to that line of thought, or how can you imagine that your Website are being complained about and no is there to arrange to engage Information Technology managers to have put things right, instead you  are very much interested in auctioning exercise. 

“I think, the Customs Service need internal professional to head the Service now”.

Meanwhile, a former member of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN) Freight Forwarders Consultative Forum, Mr. Chidi Anthony Opara, in a chat believes that there is always a hitch with Communications technology in this part of the world.

Opara stated further that the problem would heal with time and grow taller than the teething problems it is presently having.

“The Customs e-auction is a good concept,  but it is bound to have hiccups because of our present level of technological advancement. “The ICT infrastructure that powers internet technology here, the platform on which the e-auction operates, is still at the teething stage. It would improve with time, all things being equal,” Opara said.

He explained that the aforementioned factors militating against efficient e-auction operation is also what is militating against accessing the NCS website.

According to him; “This will also get better as time goes on, if also all things being equal. The Customs website is as interactive as a website in a developing country can be”. 

However, efforts to reach out to Attah wasn’t fruitful but in some online comments attributed to him said: “If your TIN is not valid, you go to where you should solve your problem of TIN.

“If your TIN is not working or whatever, is it an issue to come to Customs? You go to the person who issued you TIN. There are issues that we take the wrong route. I don’t speak for the FIRS. 

“If your TIN that is given to you there is not working or whatever, you will go back to that place and validate your TIN. They should go to PRO of FIRS because they are connected to our portal too”.

With the aforementioned, how come it seems as if the challenges is man made and always so each time the process is taking place. 

Even though the process of applying has been clearly defined, why then the controversial circumstances or challenges or is it man made?

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