Nigerian Ports: Stakeholders Flay Absence of Regulator

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12 Nov 2011

Nigeria-Flag2Stakeholders in the maritime sector of the economy have flayed the continuous absence of a technical or commercial regulator in the nation’s seaports; six years after the ports

were concessioned by the Federal Government through the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE).
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in the wake of the economic reforms programme in 2006 divested the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from the day-to-day running of the nation’s seaports situated in Lagos, Calabar, Warri, Port Harcourt, Sapele, Koko and Onne.
This is coming on the heels of the recommendation of NPA as a technical and commercial regulator of the nation’s seaports.
Since then, the absence of technical or commercial regulator to oversee the affairs of the 26 concessionaires, which took over the running of the terminals, has continued to attract criticism from port users, particularly importers and licensed customs agents.
The terminal operators, who won various lease periods ranging from 15 to 25 years in the absence of a regulator, have introduced illegal charges such as service charge, bank charge, concessionaires’ service charge.
Tally Clerk charge, commission on turnover, port administrative charges, and sorting charge among others.
The stakeholders, who believed that it was time for government to act, had been mounting pressure on BPE and Federal Government to accelerate the passage of the Transport Commission Bill which would make the management of NPA as a technical regulator.
As part of efforts to achieve a hub seaport status for the West and Central African sub-regions, stakeholders in the maritime sector have called on the National Assembly to accelerate the passage of the Port and Harbour bill.
They also tasked BPE and Federal Government to pass the bill to the National Assembly without delay. To them, the failure of successive governments to appoint a commercial regulator since the ports were concessioned has deprived the port of the intended gains.
The Port and Harbour Bill is meant to provide legal framework for reforms in the maritime sector.
They contended that if passed, the bill would provide commercial and technical regulations in the port system, thereby, creating a healthy competition and conducive business environment for the port users.
The stakeholders stressed that before that the concession programme in 2006, Nigerian ports were riddled with high port charges, long turn-around of cargoes and ships and high level of corruption.
Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had on October 10, 2011 ordered the management of NPA to take responsibility for the regulation of the concessionaires to ensure that they comply fully with the concession agreement, particularly with regards to investing in port infrastructure and cargo handling equipment.
She explained that the directive was a measure aimed at having a commercial regulator for the ports.
Director General, BPE, Ms. Bolanle Onagoruwa, at a stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, explained that the bill was receiving finishing touches at the Attorney General’s office before it is passed on to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and then to the National Assembly.
The stakeholders however, noted that directive would underscore the urgent need for the National Assembly to pass into law the bill, which would give NPA the legal teeth to function effectively and the technical regulator of the Nigerian ports.
They lauded President Goodluck Jonathan’s steps to bring sanity in the Nigerian ports as well as to make the ports business friendly.
At a seminar organised by the Agenda for Good Governance (AGOG) in Lagos, the Managing Director, Folas Ventures, Mr Folagbade Ayeni, explained that the failure of the past administrations to create a technical regulator in a landlord port model six years after the ports were concessioned, had created problems and challenges for the industry.
In a paper entitled: Absence of a technical regulator and the gains of ports reform, he added that the terminal operators had failed to comply with the terms of agreement signed between the Federal Government through the management of NPA and BPE.
According to him, NPA has the technical know-how and the manpower to regulate the industry.
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said NPA should assume the position of technical regulator.
He argued that creating another agency would make government spend more money, leading to unnecessary waste of public funds. “These budgetary approvals would have to be made for the new agency to enable it to establish offices in all the port locations where NPA has its officers on ground”, he said.
Executive Director of AGOG, Mr. Rotimi Onakoya, also said the imposition of illegal dues, levies and charges by shipping companies and terminal operators make the need for technical and commercial regulators imperative. He blamed the existence of the charges on the absence of a regulator.
It was learnt that the cost of doing business was higher than what is obtainable in neighbouring seaports and nobody has been able to explain the real amount of money that was actually brought into the country by the terminal operators since 2006.
Although the current performance indices of the ports show that the port concession was successful, its greatest undoing is the lack of a regulator.
Managing Director, NPA, Mr. Omar Suleiman, said the authority was more than ever committed to the achievement of a hub seaport status for the West and Central African region and would continue to attract more vessels, develop new port facilities, expand the existing port facilities and develop the necessary infrastructure that would make the nation’s seaports a hub for the region.
Suleiman described the recent action of the government to reduce the agencies at the seaports as a landmark step, saying it would bring efficiency to the ports.
Few months ago, a former Managing Director of NPA, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, said that the management and staff of NPA should accept the realities of the port reform exercise and play its statutorily technical regulatory role effectively for the system to achieve efficiency.
He advised the management the organisation to wake up to the challenges of technical regulation which involves monitoring of terminal operators and shipping companies as part of efforts to achieve an efficient port system. He said: “What is required now is for them to play their roles efficiently and effectively under the new system.”
Speaking on ‘Pains and Gains of Port Reform,’ he declared: “You need to see yourself as a technical regulator. You need to train yourself to monitor operations in the ports. NPA should re-orientate itself to monitor the terminal operators. Stop thinking that you can put back the hand of the clock.”
Source: This Day Live

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