June 12, 2009

We Need Powers to Sanction Erring Operators — Shipper’s council boss

The Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) is statutorily charged with the responsibility of protecting the interest of shippers in the country. In this interview with Godfrey Bivbere & Moses Nosike in Lagos, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Captain Audu Adamu Biu explains the challenges and achievements of the council, besides other issues in the maritime industry. Excerpts.Where do the revenues spent by the Council come from?

Shipper’s council boss

Shipper’s council boss

The law says we should collect one  percent of freight paid on imports and exports on services that was rendered to shippers. That is, one percent on imports and exports out of the country. However, as early as in the 80s, the military decided to form the council by what they called a percentage of the import duty surcharge not on export that can be about 7 percent collectively on cargo imported into the country and NSC was refunded from one  out of the 27 percent of that. There are other agencies who were benefiting from that 7 percent import duty surcharge and of course, the National Assembly took that up and said they want to now investigate the entire 7 percent import duty surcharge first, to verify whether it is legal or illegal. Who are the beneficiaries and why is NSC collecting all these levies?

Is this as a result of the Senate Committee invitation to NSC?
Yes, it was part of it. They also invited the Central bank and the Accountant General of the Federation. The first thing that happened at the first hearing was that it was alleged by the Ministry of Finance that NSC collection from 2003 to 2008 was N19.6 billion and of course I was sitting there and I knew we didn’t collect anything like that so I protested and said, no; we didn’t collect N19.6 billion. What we collected was N9b plus some fraction. I can’t remember the exact figures  in that five year period.

The Senate now said let us look  elsewhere by asking other agencies that  also collected f rom the import duty surcharge. They discovered that the figures did not tally at all. Every agency said that what they collected was not as much as that but the Ministry of Finance was insisting.

It was at this point that the Committee now said go back and reconcile these figures and come back to us. We all  left and when we came back, the first thing they did was to go to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Customs gave figures and they were just reading out figures.

The Ministry of Finance was asked to confirm if  the figures were  right and the expected agencies were to confirm if what we got was right and we confirmed that what we got was correct and that is N9.9 billion in that period of 2003 to 2008 and we all had an authority to incur expenditure (AIE) for it. So we were asked to explain how we expended these and we gave them. This is  the document we gave them.

This document clearly tells you what we have spent in 2008 which was quoted in the papers.  It includes what we spent on local and international travels and telephone charges. The telephone charges are not only GSM but  in all  our offices , we gave them handsets and fixed wireless. This is what we spent. So when they talk about half a billion for the year 2008, what we collected was N1.3 billion how could we spent N500 million on  travels? You have seen the figures for yourselves. This is what we gave to the Senate.

So I cannot explain how people got that figure, which got it from where and to state further that we expended N77 million or something  more on staff  salaries. There must be something about it that is not mentioned anywhere in this place.

What about port charges?
As regards the port charges, what has happened is this. First, we talk  about what we are doing or what we are not doing. We have to understand our statutory functions and also the funds we have or we don’t have. Our statutory functions  is to mediate between service providers and  users of t he services, shipping line, terminal operators, truck owners and the rest of them. We need to ensure that we  have a balance  in terms of what the service users pay for the services rendered. We don’t have any power to sanction. This is one thing that people don’t understand. What we have adopted is this, we have been talking with the service providers, including Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA). This was before/ after the concessioning of the ports.

That is why you want  to send the cargoes out of the ports. In the end, it is in the interest of everybody. The cost of doing so should be borne by the consignee  alone because it is  not his interest you are protecting but  the interest of  the terminal operator, so, why didn’t they share it? That was what our stand was and of course, it  took time and because we don’t have the power to sanction, we cannot just say: if you don’t do this, this is what I will do to you. You cannot enforce what is not there to be enforced .

So, we wrote to the Ministry of Transport and made suggestions. The Honourable Minister now created a committee based on his own recommendations, which I was privileged to head. We sat with all the terminal operators, all stakeholders in the maritime industry and worked  out acceptable level charges. We sat in my office here and agreed on a regime of  terms. Everybody agreed and we took it to the Minister. He saw it and automatically accepted at least 8 of such charges to be abrogated. They were asking for things like turn-over charges on banking facilities.

They were asking for ISPS Code implementation and stuffs like that . The Minister accepted. They were certain other charges  like item 6 or 7 which the Minister said he was going to consult with his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance before the pronouncements.

A lot of people have complained about the progressive storage charge, what does it entail?
The progressive storing charge is a graduate payment for keeping your consignment in the terminal. For instance, if you bring a container, the first three days are free. If you are able to dwell your containers within three days of its arrival, park the vessel, you don’t pay any such payments. From three days up to seven days, you pay up to N750, 000 standard charge.

From  seven days, it goes to a thousand and it is graduated like that up to 21 days and it is N1, 500 after three weeks but after that, everyday they will charge N1, 500 on a container and that  is discouraging   people from dumping their containers in the ports. We got the Ministry’s approval and we circulated letters to that effect. That came  into effect from the first of last month. Those are the kind of things we have been able to achieve so far but we could do more if we have the power of sanction.