By Franca Ofili
The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) on Tuesday proposed to establish a committee to harmonise their operations for efficient operation of Free Zones scheme.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the organisations made the resolution when the NEPZA management, led by its Managing Director, Mr Emmanuel Jimi, visited the NCS in Abuja.
Jimi said that the situation called for more robust synergy and collaboration between NEPZA and NCS in the discharge of their duties on site.
He said that one of the key economic policies of the present administration was diversification by developing the non-oil sector.
Jimi said that the chief enablers of achieving the goal was the utilisation of the free zone platform to revitalise the country’s industrial base, enhance productivity and ensure food security for the nation.
The managing director recalled that the Federal Government recently announced its plan to establish six Special Economic Zones in the geopolitical zones of the country.
“The aim of this effort is to build our economy and increase our foreign reserves and put us on a stronger base among the comity of nations.
“The Nigeria Free Zones/Special Economic Zones/Industrial clusters cannot succeed and achieve the desired goal without the help of the Nigeria Customs Service.
“It is in line with this that I and my team have come here today, to seek your cooperation and support in our drive to make Nigeria better. NEPZA cannot do it alone,’’ Jimi said.
Jimi said that during his familiarisation tour to all the free zones, he observed that there were a number challenges.
This, according to him, requires synergy and cooperation of the NCS to achieve optimal performance and efficient service delivery to achieve one-stop-shop on site.
The challenges, according to Jimi, include inadequate knowledge of Free Zones/Special Economic Zones by Customs officers and their frequent redeployment to the Zones affecting its smooth operations.
He said that such redeployment was also causing NCS officers not having adequate authority to take decisions promptly on free zone matters, thereby causing unnecessary delays.
Jimi called for continuous training of NCS officers on free zones/special economic zones matters, adding that free zone curriculum should be included in training schools of the NCS.
He also called for frequent stakeholders forum to resolve free zone issues arising from time to time, while also requesting that NEPZA should be included in the National Trade Portal of the NCS.
Jimi, however, commended the unwavering resolve of the NCS in the war against smuggling and economic sabotage.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, said that the collaboration between the two organisations was key for free trade zones not to suffer.
He said that part of Customs mandates was to ensure trade facilitation and ensure security.
“For a developing nation like ours where revenue is key, how do you find a balance between trade facilitation and security in the well being of the people?
“If you tilt towards one, you will negate the other. If we put more effort on security, we will not facilitate trade.
“If we lean more toward trade facilitation, some illegal products such as drugs, weapon will come into the country which is inimical to the wellbeing of our people,’’ Ali said.
He added that within the free trade zones law, it had permitted certain things that if care was not taken, the traders could take such advantage at the expense of the country.
“In the implementation of our law, we the enforcers must be very careful to ensure that the miscreants are not allowed to exploit the country,’’ he added.
He promised that the Customs would continue to work with NEPZA to boost the country’s revenue.(NAN)