Article available here: http://theloadstar.co.uk/freight-forwarders-back-new-presidents-drive-to-fight-customs-corruption-in-nigeria/
By Alex Lennane on 04/02/2016
Corruption may cost Nigeria up to 37% of its GDP within the next 14 years, according to a PWC report this week.
But freight forwarders are proving that paying off officials is not a necessary part of the logistics business.
Lagos-headquartered AMG Logistics has just completed a certification with TRACE, an anti-corruption and compliance specialist.
AMG MD Mark Daoud told The Loadstar the country was changing and a better understanding had grown among authorities that bribes don’t need to be paid.
“It will change even more in the next five years,” he said.
AMG is not alone in its belief. The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) last year began apublic inquiry on the activities of corrupt Customs officers at the nation’s seaports.
”The campaign worked despite opposition, with the chief of Customs having put a new management team in place.
NAGAFF president Eugene Nweke told local media last month that corruption had been rampant in areas like Customs examination, value assessment and stoppage of released goods at the exit gates of ports.
“One other area which we expect the new customs board to take a critical look at is licensing regulation. We have always maintained that a system whereby customs licenses are issued to corporate entities instead of individuals goes with a lot of risk.
“It allows individuals who perpetrate fraud in the release of goods to escape punishment, hiding under the veil of corporate entity.”
Mr Daoud, who formerly worked at Panalpina, had no doubt that AMG, established in 2014, would remain corruption-free.
“After problems at some companies, things had to change. People realised that there was a problem. And since the new [Nigerian] president took power, we have seen a difference, even in the last few months.”
Under former president Goodluck Jonathan, one minster calculated that just 55 people had taken $6.8bn from the public purse in seven years. New president Muhammadu Buhari is trying to turn the tide, and has begun a crackdown on corruption. Dozens have been arrested already.
“The new president is really trying to clean up the country,” said Mr Daoud. “The government means business, they want change.”
He admitted that when AMG was set up, not paying bribes had led to severe delays at Customs.
“It was a nightmare. About 10% of our shipments weren’t cleared, and about 90% were queried. But we stuck to our principles, we didn’t allow anything that wasn’t fully compliant. It was a lot of hard work, and there were problems – shipments were taking 18 days to clear.
“Now, it is two to seven days. People know we are very transparent. There is nothing to stop our shipments if the correct duty is paid. We have set a precedent, and it is getting easier.”
He said the firm would find officials they knew were not corrupt and work with them on ensuring all the paperwork and payments were completely accurate.
AMG chairman Janah Moukarim added: “It is not difficult to do the right thing. Most people are honest, very few are corrupt. If you are on the front line and insist on not paying a bribe, you can do it.”
The advantages are not only those for Nigeria itself, which will be able to attract more foreign investment if there is less corruption, but also for AMG’s customers and finding new business.
“We are gaining new clients. We are in discussions with multinationals which have heard about us and want to work with us, compliantly. Sometimes people don’t realise that business can be done in a compliant manner, as they have heard Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries.”
It also keeps costs down. Mr Daoud revealed that those “additional costs” of clearing Customs could add between 5% and 80% of the original cost.
TRACE certification cost $2,000, but the company says this and the costs of internal audits and constant training for all its staff is “an investment for the future”.
“I am 100% sure this will grow as a trend in Nigeria,” said Mr Daoud. “And we will help and support anyone who is genuine an wants to do this too.”
TRACE said it had successfully completed a certification due diligence review of AMG. “TRACE certification underscores AMG Logistics’ commitment to transparency in international commercial transactions,” it said.