A retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Abubakar Bashir, says that Nigerian shipowners’ unethical practices are inhibiting the shipping sector’s growth.
Bashir, who spoke at a maritime virtual symposium, accused some indigenous shipowners of engaging in illegal round-tripping transactions under the guise of importing vessels into the country only for them to bring in wrecks.
Round-tripping occurs when individuals or companies divert foreign exchange obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria at the lower official rate to the black market for higher profits.
He was reacting to shipowners’ concerns over the lack of government incentives and high customs duty on vessels imported into the country.
“Customs as a regulator has realised that people are using a lot of things in importing wrecks, not ships, just for round-tripping or money laundering in some cases. They overvalue the wrecks, and sometimes they use that as a focal point and transfer the money,” he explained.
He added, “In the customs export prohibition items, it is very clear that whatever you import into Nigeria and you declare it for home use and pay the duty, it is prohibited for you to export it. It is the issue of money laundering that brought about this.”
The ex-customs chief said personal interest was inhibiting the sector’s growth.
Bashir noted, “The issue of personal interest is part of what hinders progress in the industry. People will just go and bring in wrecks, transfer huge sums of money at the detriment of our foreign exchange because we are virtually an import dominated industry.”
He urged maritime practitioners to engage the customs to clear grey areas before embarking on international transactions.
While it is not the customs’ responsibility to grant tax reliefs on imported vessels as requested by indigenous shipowners, Bashir urged the operators to consider relevant laws of import and export guidelines before investing.