Lawmakers to engage audit experts over Customs revenue losses

By Gloria Essien, Abuja

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Following a prolonged contract dispute between the Nigerian Customs Services and Webb Fontaine, an IT service provider, the House of Representatives Committee on Customs will engage experts in Forensic audit to look into the payment receipts and all activities of the IT service provider to Nigeria Customs Service.


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


Hon Abajide said that government and Nigerians had suffered various degrees of losses from the contract.


The investigative hearing was a follow-up on the decision of the House of 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 Nigerian 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 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 Nigerian 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 services,” 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 service.


In his 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 its services as he explained that the firm recently changed some of its network service providers.


“We ourselves as a company have heard and 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 everything 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.


He said that when there are issues, they end up being resolved as quickly as possible.


The Committee however insists that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, must appear before it next week to provide some details regarding the investigation.

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