By Godwin Oritse
THE recent public hearing by the House of Representative Ad-hoc Committee, investigating the alleged misappropriation of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) following a public outcry by stakeholders and members of the shipping public has thrown up several issues.
Proceedings from the investigation pointed to the fact that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), may have been using the Fund for purposes other than what it was meant to achieve.
The CVFF like the failed Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF), was meant to provide financial assistance to indigenous shipping operators through access to loan facilities with a view to building their tonnage capacity, so as to compete with the foreign shipping firms that have dominated the nation’s coastal trade.
Speaking at the opening of the Public Hearing, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, decried the misappropriation of the Fund, saying that “ the purpose of establishing the Fund may have been defeated if it has not been used to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity by providing financial assistance to Nigerian operators.”
Tambuwal said that in spite of the enactment of the Cabotage Act in 2003, the Nigerian inland water ways remained “grossly a wasteland.
“The fear is that some unpatriotic people are misapplying the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds to the detriment of its objectives,” he said.
According to him, the maritime sector has over the years suffered from ineptitude caused by poor regulatory frame work.
The speaker said the hearing was not aimed at witch-hunting any individual or group, but aimed at repositioning the sector.
The speaker was represented at the occasion by the Deputy Leader of the House, Leo Ogor (PDP Delta).The Committee, led by its Chairman, Christopher Eta, noted that the details of the bank statement made available to the Committee was not a true reflection of answers to questions thrown at the management of NIMASA.
Some members of the Committee particularly Dr. Samuel Babatunde Adejare, was irked at the inability of the Agency’s Acting Director of Finance, Mr. Victor Onuzulike, to convince the Committee on some conflicting areas in the bank statements of the CVFF accounts.
The investigation also discovered that the Fund was being used to service some people or firms, whom the Director-General Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi referred to as “revenue consultants”.
According to the Director- General, there was an agreement between NIMASA and Global West Specialist Vessels Limited to pay the firm 50 percent of whatever extra revenue generated by NIMASA as a result of Global West’s intervention in enhancing NIMASA’s revenue profile.
A visibly angry Adejare noted that most of the monies moved from the VCFF account were done without any Memos raised and approval given.
At the Hearing, the Committee demanded to know how much was fixed in which of the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) as well as the interest accruable on a monthly basis, as they (Committee members) could not make sense of the statement given to it by NIMASA.
Besides the shabby financial statement given to the Committee, most of the intended beneficiaries are not known players in the local shipping sector.
Apart from Stazs Investment Company, owners of Stazs Maritime Services, five other intended beneficiaries waiting to access the Fund having met the requirements are relatively new .
The President of the Nigerian Ship-owners Association (NISA), Chief Isaac Jolapamo, accused the Ministry of Transport of deliberately frustrating the disbursement of the Fund saying that “the Federal Ministry of Transport has been the one frustrating the disbursement of the monies since it was created ten years ago.”
Jolapamo stated that members of NISA have remained faithful to the Fund by making the mandatory two percent contributions from their contracts to the Fund.
His words, “ We have thus shown total fidelity to the CVFF over the years and naturally expected same to be reciprocated. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
“The CVFF has not to our knowledge, been disbursed to any intended beneficiary since it started accruing.
It will be recalled that a former Executive Director of the agency allegedly used part of the accrued interest of the CVFF to finance the purchase of a N400million property in ‘Banana Island’ shortly before he left.
A source close to the agency told Vanguard that the CVFF account has been depleted as there are no monies in those accounts being played up by the NIMASA’s management.
An operator who refused to have his names in prints told Vanguard that a lot of things that are being done in NIMASA show that the present management does not have a direction.
The operator suggested that the pool of monies in the CVFF could be used to float a maritime bank that is commercial in nature and allow operators to approach the bank for whatever financial assistance they needed.
“NIMASA as the nation’s flag administration has not lived up to expectation as this has drawn the nation back by many tears” the operator said
The six applicants so far cleared to benefit from the fund are requesting for a total of N21.288billion to acquire about seven vessels of different types and sizes.
The intended beneficiaries are still waiting for both the Federal Executive Council and the Presidency to approve their applications.