House Committee to engage Audit Experts to Probe Revenue Losses From Customs

Paschal Emeka, Abuja

Following a lingering contract disagreement between the Nigerian Customs Service and Webb Fontaine, an IT service provider, the House of Representatives Committee on Customs has decided to engage experts in Forensic Audit to look into the payment receipts and all activities of the IT service provider to the Nigeria Customs Service.

The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Leke Abajide while declaring the investigative hearing open, on Thursday in Abuja, said that the decision is to ascertain actual revenue loss to the Nigerian government and other stakeholders.

Hon. Abajide said that the government and Nigerians have suffered various degree of losses from the contract.

The investigative hearing was a follow-up on the decision of the House of Representatives, which the motive was to ensure compliance to service level agreements with the IT service provider Webb Fontaine, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Nigeria Customs Service.

He stated that government agencies are supposed to refund payments made for services they did not offer.

“We are here on the assignment given to us by the leadership of the House and the entire House to investigate the loss of revenue that has gone to Webb Fountain in the cause of discharging their services to the nation in the period they have operated in Nigeria,” Hon Abajide said.

He added that the Committee would require some information from relevant agencies and said the committee would submit its report in four weeks.

Earlier, the Director, Home Finance of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr. Ali Mohammed who represented the Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed noted that the contract had been in place since 2006 to date.

Mr. Mohammed explained that so far 60% of the contract payment had been made to Webb Fontaine.

“The essence of the contract is to increase the revenue drive of the Federal government and I can say to an extent, the services have not been realized” Mohammad said.

On his part, the representative of the Controller General, Nigeria Customs Service, Kingsley Egwu corroborated the downtime and poor service provided by Webb Fontaine which affected revenue generation to the government.

According to him, Webb Fontaine had not provided necessary training for Customs to properly take over the services.

“The services, they cannot be better put, the downtime, the hiccup in their services has been very poor. The downtime is disturbing the services. All its controllers complain about the downtime,” Mr. Egwu said.

He also said that the Nigerian Customs Service wants to take over the services of the service provider but the firm has not trained their personnel enough to take over the management of the services.

In a response, the Managing Director of Webb Fontaine, Opeyemi Babalola agreed to the issue of downtime but maintained that there are site engineers on ground to address service issues at any point.

He promised to improve on services as he explained that the firm recently changed some of its network service providers.

“We ourselves as a company heard and had seen reports often by the press and held meetings about the issues of downtime. Whenever we get those, we do investigate. We cannot deny that there are issues, but on every site, we have site support engineers who are supposed to be the first call on anything about the Webb Fountain system. And those issues usually should be able to be resolved. The reports of several days of downtime, we have found them strange because that has not been our experience,” Mr. Babalola said.

The committee, however, insists that CBN must appear before it next week to provide some details regarding the investigation.

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