The need to automate all facets of operations and clearing processes at the nation’s seaports has been emphasized at different fora.
Automation or automatic control is the use of various control systems for operating equipment such as machinery, processes, boilers and heat treating ovens, switching in telephone networks, steering and stabilization of ships, aircraft and other applications with minimal or reduced human intervention.
The biggest benefit of automation is that it saves labour, however, it is also used to save energy and materials and to improve quality, accuracy and precision.
The term automation, inspired by the earlier word automatic, was not widely used before 1947, when General Motors established an automation department. It was during this time that industry was rapidly adopting feedback controllers, which were introduced in the 1930s.
Automation has been achieved by various means including mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, electronic and computers, usually in combination. Complicated systems, such as modern factories, airplanes and ships typically use all these combined techniques.
Customs automation therefore describes the application of information and communication technologies (ICT) for accomplishing the mission of Customs.
It may support the entire clearance process – from lodging, acceptance and processing of cargo and goods declarations for import, export and transit, payment of applicable duties and taxes, to release of the goods from Customs control – or only part of it.
Customs automation offers new possibilities to administrations such as pre-arrival processing and automated release of securities and guarantees. It can facilitate the use of risk management and risk-based selectivity and the collection of data for reporting external trade statistics.
Aspects of the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC) require the use of IT and electronic means for Customs operations. Standard 7.4 of the RKC also requires Customs to establish the necessary enabling legal framework, including electronic authentication methods (e.g. digital signatures). The Kyoto Convention ICT Guidelines provide great detail about Customs automation and project management. The list of topics covered in these Guidelines include application areas of ICT (e.g. declaration processing, release, e-payment, transit, trade statistics, enforcement); system development process, project and change management; IT security; outsourcing in Customs; IT-related legal aspects; and many more. Any Customs automation project aiming to implement the Revised Kyoto Convention is also expected to apply the WCO Data Model as the standard for electronic messages and data standards. Such a project will require a review and in most cases a redesign of existing Customs processes and procedures, as well as harmonization of the various data requirements of all relevant national border agencies into a single national data set. Above all, these projects require leadership to manage the changes.
Now that it has successfully launched its pre-arrival assessment report (PAAR) scheme and the Nigerian Trade Hub, the next key project that the Nigeria Customs Service should embark upon is the full automation of cargo clearance processes.
Full automation of Customs processes will not only create an economic and efficient system, it will eliminate unnecessary wastages and delays as a result of human interference, in addition to boosting revenue collection. The unnecessarily high human and vehicular traffic at the nation’s seaports and Customs commands will also be drastically reduced.
The Dikko Abdullahi-led Customs administration should embark on full automation project immediately and see its successful completion as another legacy to bequeath to our great nation.