Retired Customs officers flay CBN’s proposed e-invoice policy, say it’s ploy to reintroduce pre-shipment inspection regime

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The Association of Retired Senior Officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (ARSONCS) has kicked against the planned e- valuator and e-invoicing policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), urging the government to jettison the move.

Secretary of the Lagos Chapter of the association, retired Comptroller Olu Ogunojemite, in an exclusive chat with Maritime Today Online, said the initiative is a ploy to take over the functions of Customs and bring the country back to the pre-shipment inspection era.

Ogunojemite explained, “We are operating General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) regulation of valuation and what that agreement which Nigeria subscribes to says the importer will declare his value on their invoice- the Customs cannot even query the value unless they have a reasonable ground. If Customs have any reason to doubt it, they have seven ways to check. That is what the GATT regulation stipulates. In the GATT agreement, the onus is on Customs to disprove your value and they give reasons why they can fault the value. So why does CBN need to approve e-invoice for importers?

“So, we are not calling for suspension but the total cancellation of that project because it will not do well for the country.

“It will contradict Customs work and Customs’ ways of doing valuation because if I have an electronic invoice approved by the CBN, then it means that Customs can no longer query the invoice because it comes from the government. If the policy becomes law, it means no importer will allow Customs to raise their value once it is approved.

“The pre-shipment people we are trying to move away are trying to come back through the back door and they want to use the CBN. They are going to be behind the e- invoice because of the 1 percent CISS which is a lot of money. What does CBN know about e-invoice? So, it is those foreign people that are coming to advise the government and because they know that they can’t come to Customs this time around, they are going through the CBN.”

Ogunojemite also faulted that the House of Representatives called for the suspension of the implementation of the policy, rather than its outright cancellation.

According to him, the call for suspension will only create an avenue for renegotiation of the policy with others who were not carried along upon its introduction.

He said, “I don’t subscribe to the idea of suspension by the House of Representatives. Why suspend? They are only given room for people to go and renegotiate with other people that have not been carried along and when they carry them along, the House will approve it. Let CBN come out and tell us what informed e-invoice? Is it to collect more revenue? If they say that, then it is a lie because Customs will collect less revenue if the policy is implemented and if customs will collect more revenue, they just want to put importers in jeopardy because Customs will query the invoice and it will be of no relevance to Customs. That is why they are thinking they should give collection of duty to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) that does not know how to calculate duty.

“The government should cancel the policy completely because what they want to do is to take us back to the pre-shipment era and we should not think of going back to Egypt. We have left Egypt, let us forget about it. We don’t need e-invoicing. Nigeria operates the GATT regime of valuation and what it means is that the owner tells us how much he buys his things. If CBN approves e-invoice, are they the ones that will release the goods for the importer in the port?”

Ogunojemite urged the Customs management to explore consultation with retired senior officers to enable them advise the government on issues that could jeopardize not just the core functions of the Service but the nation’s economy at large.

“Customs should reach out to ex customs officers; they are the ones that can fight for them not because we are protecting territory but to explain why government should not take some steps because the government will lose so much and people who don’t know where this money come from, we start taking the money out of the country because it is a contract,” he concluded.

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