Economy and Development

Customs: A SICK Government Agency.

6

Case report:
Recently, I got a bill of over N800, 000 for importing medical consumables worth a mere N2, 500, 000. The question is why? Why would the government slap such a huge duty on medical equipment especially during this trying period of the Covid-19 infection?

It made me sick to my stomach!
In 2013, the Nigerian government announced a zero tariff on imported medical equipment, pharmaceutical manufacturing machinery and packaging materials, but industry sources say the legislation has not yet been implemented. A duty rate of 20 to 25 percent on medical equipment still applies. This is the recent calculation on the materials we imported.

It does not make sense!
Last year, there was government support for Covid-19 such that “essential medical supplies” are exempt from value added tax (VAT) and from import customs duty for a six-month period, effective 1st May 2020. This was apparently for a limited period for 6 months which may have already ended. So, somebody remembered that the exemption has lapsed. But they forgot they had also let in a second wave of the Corona virus! Hello, Covid-19 and the Corona virus is still here. Nigerian healthcare practitioners are still on the frontline saving lives.

So, whither Nigerian government and Customs?
The Nigerian Customs once levied charges on Anti-TB drugs donated FREE OF CHARGE to help us in the fight against Tuberculosis. The drugs nearly expired in the government shed before they were released to needy patients. There are so many more cases of these thoughtless actions and bureaucratic snafu in the agency.

A government at war with its own people!
I heard from a friend that theatre operating lights imported into the country for use in the hospital was labelled as CHANDELIERS by clueless Customs officials. Theatre lights! The question is why? Why are they hell bent on frustrating medical doctors and healthcare practitioners who put their lives on the line daily for all Nigerians including they and their families. Right now, we cannot in all good faith encourage anyone to invest in healthcare in Nigeria.

Back to the case report.
All I can tell you is that it can be gruelling, time-consuming and very expensive to interact with Nigerian Customs. A lot of money often go into peoples’ pockets directly or they would sabotage your equipment. If push comes to shove, we will pay the charges to avoid the materials being destroyed in the hands of customs or being sent back to the manufacturers. We would pay and pass on the additional cost to the Nigerian patient. This will undoubtedly increase the cost of care for patients and make healthcare further unaffordable for the common man.

I just hope the next patient is a sick and needy Customs officer!
The Nigerian government and the Customs should investigate this matter with the urgency it deserves. You cannot be asking us to make huge sacrifices and assist in the delivery of quality and affordable healthcare for the people while slapping us with punishing customs levies and VAT. It does not make sense to have huge charges on medical equipment and consumables at this crucial time.

This is not the time to make money off the back of sick people. It is time to formally review and officially cancel customs charges and VAT on medical equipment and consumables.
The Nigerian patients are worth it.

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