As the August 1 commencement of the collection of the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) across all seaports, airports and land border stations nationwide draws nearer, there remain several question marks over the modalities for the collection, amount to be collected, sharing formula of the POF, amongst others.
While the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has moved against the collection, calling for an indefinite suspension of the Practitioners’ Operating Fees (POF), the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) have thrown their weight behind the planned collection.
Following the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi’s directive to begin the collection of POF in August, the National President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, called for an indefinite suspension of the Practitioners’ Operating Fees (POF) in a letter addressed to the Minister.
Highlighting his reasons for the rejection of the POF levy on freight forwarders and customs brokers, Shittu argued that operators in the sub sector were already saddled with enough levies and would not be able to take on more.
He explained that the fee would add to the cost of doing business, an issue that has been exhaustively discussed with a view to addressing the high cost of doing business in Nigeria’s ports.
“As the name suggested, the fees would amount to additional cost of doing business in Nigeria with multiplier effects adversely on the nation economy. As of now, Licensed Customs Agency being asked for payment of the practitioner’s Operating Fees has the following payments to make – Annual License Renewal – N215,000.00.Annual Nigeria Ports Authority License Renewal – N6,000.00; Annual Customs Command Operating Fees – N15,000.00/Customs Command; Bank Changes for Customs Bond – N52,500.00; CRFFN Annual Payment – N70,000.00/Staff Member.”
“Adding daily payment of Practitioners’ Operating Fees would be financially burdensome on an average Customs Agency/Company which when transferred to the importers/exporters, will eventually bear heavily on the Nigerian economy negatively. We therefore, appeal to you in the interest of the Nigerian economy generally, to suspend the collection of the practitioner’s Operating Fees indefinitely to avoid the negative effects that the collection would attract to Nigeria, as a Nation.” Shittu wrote.
While Shittu has a case with regards the effect of POF on the ease of doing business at the ports, it should also be recalled that ANLCA had been collecting POF without thinking about the economic implications for several years.
However, Shittu supported the election and inauguration of a Governing Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) as he expected it to determine the fate of the Practitioner’s Operating Fees and resolve some other issues, and not the other way round.
Speaking with MMS Plus on the planned collection, the Registrar of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Mr. Mike Jukwe said, “CRFFN is a government agency and the government has asked us to begin collection of POF and that is exactly what we would do. The instruction is that CRFFN should begin collection of POF by August 1st irrespective of the issues with the sharing formula. So we would go ahead with the collection. The directive for the collection of POF was also sent to the freight forwarding associations” he said.
Jukwe also noted that part of the monies from the collection would be deployed to organize the CRFFN’s Governing Council elections.
However, he wouldn’t tell our correspondence how much the planned elections would cost. He also didn’t disclose if the fund of the elections was also captured in the CRFFN 2017 budget. If the rationale behind the collection was to provide necessary funds for the Council elections, would the collection continue after the elections?
Following ANLCA’s rejection of the collection, CRFFN is yet to explain if ANLCA would be involved in the collection and what modalities would be put in place for the collection. Would the fees be based on container sizes and how much would be collected per container?
When confronted with these questions, the Head of Corporate Communications at CRFFN, Mrs. Chinyere Uromta said CRFFN hadn’t concluded plans on the issues, but she promised to reveal the information as soon as it was available.
However, it is shocking that with less than two weeks to the commencement of POF collection, CRFFN wouldn’t disclose how much is to be collected and they also don’t know how much is needed for the Council’s elections.
The idea of using the fund for elections doesn’t augur well with some freight forwarders, the National Public Relations Officer; Mr. Stanley Ezenga told MMS Plus that the main purpose of the POF is to help the associations to build capacity in the area of training and retraining of professionals.
“While the money can be used for CRFFN elections, it should be noted that the main purpose of that fund is for proper training of freight forwarders. It is to build their capacity so that we have more professionals that understand the Customs processes. The CRFFN Council election is apt but it is sad that the money for the election isn’t available and we need to use part of the POF for the election”, Ezenga said.
On his part, the Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam stated that “ANLCA has gone to the court over the issue of POF but that doesn’t stop government from working because they are there to cater for the interest of the larger society.”
“There is no problem with the money been used for CRFFN Governing Council elections because it is for the benefit of freight forwarders; the money is also going to be used for training capacity of freight forwarders. There can never be a vacuum in governance because, as at the time the Council was dissolved, the powers returned to the Transport Minister.”
“If the Council isn’t there, look at the Section 5 of the CRFFN and you will see that it gives powers to the Minister to intervene in absence of the Council.
Issues that require attention are there; for instance NAGAFF is in the Court of Appeal over the relevance of the President appointing the Chairman of the CRFFN governing council and also questioning whether the Council is a government agency. This is how we can test the relevance of things and it is the beauty of democracy. Don’t forget that NAGAFF midwived CRFFN, so we cannot kill a baby that we gave birth to. If there are issues of contention in CRFFN, we can always discuss that but it doesn’t mean that we should halt CRFFN in any form.” He said.
Meanwhile, the Acting President of NCMDLCA, Comrade Ben Ndee endorsed the scheduled collection of POF.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the idea of the POF collection across the ports and the major border stations, sincerely, we welcome it. We are hundred percent in support of POF collection, we have always been in support from day one when this fee was first proposed under JACOFF but at this point in time, it was supposed to be for the agents but out of our squabble, greed, and wickedness, government now took it off and now it has become a matter of TSA.
“This fee ideally should have been for the agents because we are the ones taking delivery, this fee should have been a kind of compensation for the agents, this was the ideal thing. That is how government hijacked it and it has become a government fee and I doubt if these associations will get a dime from it”, he said.
On the use of the POF for CRFFN elections, Ndee said, “I strongly believe that government should have voted out money for this election and set up CRFFN for it to be seen as being functional. So, ANLCA, one way or the other may be right but since government in its wisdom has decided that this should go on and whatever is generated, they are going to use the money there to conduct the election. I subscribe to the fact that government should be given a benefit of doubt”.