The Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative (MAIN) has given kudos to the House of Representatives; especially its committee on marine transport for making steady progress with the maritime sector bills that are at various stages of passage at the legislature.
The Bills are: Port and Harbour Bill, Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria Bill, Maritime Zone Bill. They have all been subjected to the mandatory first and second readings and have also been subjected to public hearing at various times.
The maritime industry non governmental organisation (NGO), in a statement issued in Lagos last week and which was signed by its executive director, Mr Sesan OnileimoÂ recalled theÂ various efforts of the marine transport committee under the chairmanship of Honourable Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to get the bills passed into law and urged that members of the shipping community should encourage the law makers and empathise with them, even as stakeholders await the industry-transforming bills to be passed into law soon.
It is quite commendable that even though public hearings are not mandatory pre-requisites in the process of enacting a Bill, the House of Reps held public hearings for all the Bills, during which the views of all stakeholders were collated and subsequently reflected in the final drafts which are now awaiting clause-by-clause considerations at plenary.
We recall with satisfaction the various meetings which were held before details of the Port and Harbour draft bill was agreed upon and subsequently forwarded to the House by the committee for consideration.
As a key stakeholder which participated effectively in the various efforts and deliberations which led to the successes that have so far been recorded, MAIN understands that recent â€˜more national and politicalâ€™ issues such as the amendments to the 1999 constitution, considerations of the Electoral Reform Act and the unfortunate demise of our late president, Alhaji Umar Yarâ€™ Adua have taken tolls on the time available for other legislative responsibilities by the National Assembly.
The shipping community eagerly awaits the imminent passage into law of the Port and Harbour Bill which for the first time since the creation of Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA), will provide for a commercial and technical regulator in the port system.
As much as we acknowledge that concessioning the nationâ€™s seaports has brought about healthy competition and more efficiency in cargo delivery, we equally strongly opine that establishing an Independent Port Regulator and also instituting a legal framework for private sector participation in port business is one of the highpoints of the bill.
It will undoubtedly protect the rights of terminal operators and other service providers while ensuring that users of port services get value for their patronage in an atmosphere of healthy competition.
Passing this bill will further complement the excitement that the recent passage and subsequent signing into law of the Nigerian Content Bill has brought to the nationâ€™s economy and its anticipated multiplier effect. The maritime sector, which the Port and Harbour bill seeks to strengthen, is expected to also be a major beneficiary of the Nigerian Content bill. The passage of the Port and Harbour Bill coming after the passage of the Nigerian Content Bill will undoubtedly provide the much â€“ needed elixir for the nationâ€™s economy.
We recall that both the Maritime Zone Bill and the Chartered Institute of Shipping of Nigeria (CISN) Bill were deliberated upon at a public hearing by stakeholders on the same day, hence our belief that these obviously â€œless controversialâ€ bills ought to have been considered expeditiously and without much ado.
While the Maritime Zone Bill seeks to merge the continental shelf and economic exclusive zone in line with international dictates, the CISN Bill seeks to create an umbrella body for shipping professionals and practitioners, cutting across various competencies but having the shipping industry as their common ground, hence the importance of the two bills can equally not be over emphasized.
We reiterate our understanding of the tight schedule of the National Assembly and also acknowledge the stiff competition among various committees to get bills considered, hence our resolve to continue to urge maritime industry stakeholders to also appreciate the uniqueness of some of these Bills.
For instance, the Port and Harbour Bill (incorporating the Independent Port Regulatory Commission) is very voluminous and likely to take almost two weeks of legislative work to conclude its clause by_clause considerations. But we urge that the National Assembly to equally understand that the nationâ€™s seaports have been operated for more than four years without protection for players; especially, providers and users of cargo handling services.
The MAIN is reassured by the confirmation given to a group of maritime journalists recently by the committeeâ€™s chairman that the House is not resting on its oars o ensure that the Bills were considered.
Once again, we appeal that these bills be passed during the current legislative dispensation, because, pushing them beyond May 2011 will have adverse effects on the nationâ€™s maritime sector and related activities.