By Kenneth Jukpor
Mr. Samuel Vongtau is the Chairman of the Anti-Corruption and Transparency Monitoring Unit (ACTU) at Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). He is also the Director, Legal Services at the Council. After a sensitization walk in Apapa, organized by ACTU in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on Thursday last week, he sat with MMS Plus to bare his mind on several pertinent issues in the nation’s port sector. Excerpts
What is the essence of this Anti-Corruption sensitization walk you led today?
The essence of the anti-corruption walk is to educate the general public especially the maritime sector that is the port specifically. It is also to educate people who transact business at the ports on the fight against corruption. If you have been following the news, Nigerian ports have been said to be the most expensive ones in the world as a result of corruption. It has also been alleged that corruption contributes a lot to the cost of doing business at the ports. So, we decided to go to the ports to meet the people that transact business at the port like the truck owners, the truck drivers, freight forwarders, among others, including the security agents at the gates, to educate them on the fight against corruption.
The theme of the walk is “Shun Corruption and Uplift the Nigerian Ports” and the slogan is “…see something, say something!” That is why we have all these pamphlets giving information on the need to kick against corruption. It’s part of our effort towards the fight against corruption in the Nigerian Shippers Council.
Are there phone numbers or emails to reach out to when extortion is noticed?
Yes we have a very robust electronic system of reporting fraud or other abnormal incidents at the ports which is the PSSP (Port services Support Portal). The numbers are also on all the pamphlets that we gave out.
For the website, it is www.pssp.ng or you can use the telephone number: 0818888895. That is the number you can use if you have anything to report as it bothers on corruption activities at the ports, Nigerian Shippers Council, especially the Corruption and Monitoring Unit would be swift to respond.
Also, if you need service support or you have complain concerning your shipment or any services at the port, there is an online portal where you can send in your complains and immediately it will be followed.
In recent times the Council has expressed displeasure over the continuous classification of Nigerian waters as a War-Risk Zone. What are the Council’s moves to prevent the extra war risk charge and the global conspiracy? Are you planning to engage the underwriters to change the perspective of putting Nigeria on the war risk zone?
At Shippers Council that has been a matter of great concern to us. We have been meeting some authorities that are relevant to this. We are taking the issues up to the Global Shippers Forum which is a body of Shippers all over the world. We have also started speaking with the Union of Africa Shippers Councils on this issue. My Chief Executive has always been talking about this issue and he has been speaking with the shipping companies. Also, we have schedule a meeting where the global representative of the Global Shippers Forum is going to attend and I am sure that my Chief Executive will also raise up that issue. So, we are working very hard to resolve it.
Even today, we had scheduled a meeting with the shipping companies but the meeting had to be postponed. If that meeting held, I wouldn’t have been on this anti-corruption sensitization walk. We have regular meetings with the shipping companies and this is one of the issues. We are trying to reach a Memorandum of Understanding where all these extra charges would be streamlined by the NSC.
Truckers continue to complain that they are been extorted by security operatives, while shipping companies ask them to drop containers without providing holding bays. Have you been able to link up with other port operators and the security agents on port access roads, to curb this menace?
There is this committee which is the taskforce and the NSC is a member. They have been speaking on the issue of containers been dropped in different places. The gridlock has made some areas to be designated for the storage of empty containers.
Sometimes the truckers will drop the containers at the designated places but the shipping companies may say that the containers have not reached them. Meetings have been held and plans have been made to see how this would be addressed. In Shippers Council, on a daily basis, we receive a lot of letters complaining about this issue and our complaint unit is very active. They have been handling some of these issues too. Some of them will be resolved while some are still in the process of been resolved and others need the input of the general task force to bring the solution.
However, once the road is completed and cleared, all these issues will be a thing of the past.
On the issue of corruption, I think the sensitization of other stakeholders such as truck owners are just at the lower level. Those who can influence the stoppage of corruption are the taskforce and regulatory agencies at the ports. Don’t you think that the emphasis on anti-corruption should be with the enforcement units at the ports?
That is why the ACTUs are established in government agencies. Government knows that it is the government officials that regulates the laid down rules and are able to stem corruption. That is why the Anti corruption and Transparency monitoring Units (ACTU) are established in the government agencies.
However, without the cooperation of the people on the other side, we cannot stop corruption. With the sensitization of the people who are the external stakeholders, they may be able to report instances of corrupts practices to these units and it will be taken up from there.
The ACTUs are supposed to be the eyes of the ICPC in government agencies primarily to monitor the staff and to ensure that they are not engaged in corrupt practices. In doing that, they also need to educate the public so the public will know which acts encourage corruption. That is the reason why we feel that we should go to stakeholders so that they will know where to report when there is such attempt by government officials to extort them.
It is also for people to know that there are places where they can report corrupt practices because sometimes the stakeholders will not be aware of a place they can report.
One legal issue affecting the Council has been the pending on court case to establish Shippers Council’s role as the Port Economic Regulator. Has there been any development so far in the court cases with terminal operators and shipping companies?
The cases started at the Federal High Court and the judgment was given in favor of the Shippers Council. The shipping companies and the terminal operators who were involved appealed to the Court Of Appeal and we got victory there also. They were not satisfied and that is why they decided to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The issue is the pending as Supreme Court cases take quite some time because of the number of cases they have. As at now, they have just filed their briefs and we have filed our answers. However, no date has been fixed for hearing yet.
Perhaps, government will see the need to accelerate the earring of the cases because it hinges on serious economic issues and probably the Supreme Court may want to give priority to cases like that. Otherwise, the cases can remain in the Supreme Court for up to 5-10 years.