By Kenneth Jukpor
Mr. Paul Clark is a former Minister of Transportation in the United Kingdom. After the first session of the recent national conference on Truck Transit Parks in Abuja, he sat with MMS Plus to share his experience as a former Minister on how Nigeria can transform the transport sector, explaining the vital role of railways and giving solutions to combating corruption and the challenges in Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Enjoy it:
Can you share some practical steps to transforming the Nigerian Transport system, from your experience as a former Minister of Transport in the United Kingdom?
As a former Minister of Transport in the UK, which includes shipping; one of the things you have to realize is that it is a gradual process. Ports are critical to development of any country and very important to Nigeria because it enables you to bring goods to not only other parts of the country but also the landlocked nations. So getting the transport link right is very important. What we have done today on Truck Transit Parks is sacrosanct to the success of the nation’s transport system. One of the things I said during my presentation is that the development of TTPs should take into consideration the creation of railways.
One of the first things we did while I was Minister of Transport, was to encourage rail-freight. This ensures that most of the goods are taken off the roads to railways. The traffic congestion on the port access roads would reduce with the introduction of TTPs.
If Nigeria can get the TTPs dovetailing with the railways, I think it should mark important development in transportation for the country as you could have goods first moved out of the ports to certain points via railways and then distribute with trucks to other locations within the country or the neighbouring countries.
However, it needs a forward planning and clear strategy. I know that Nigeria is doing a lot in this process. I think that there is a significant and exciting future that can be developed for the Nigerian infrastructure programme that links the ports to the roads and railways. There has been a neglect of the railway for too long and I think the focus should be on developing railways which is good for Nigerians, for the economy, job creation and easy transportation of goods to other countries that are landlocked.
One of the major problems in the development of TTPs has been in partnerships. It has been difficult to find TTP facilitators enter partnership with the sponsors. How do we address this issue?
It is not easy. In the late 1990s I was in the government back in the UK and we developed a lot through Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and you learn as you go. Some of the early partnerships weren’t really successful and I can say with the benefits of hindsight that it could have been better. However, we have to learn as we go. Both parties have to share the risk and embrace the place of learning. One of the contributors today identified that problem when he noted that if the currency devaluates for example, people ought to have some sought of safety net so that they don’t lose all their investment. To be quite honest, if you look at the TTPs and how they could develop into economic hubs in the given regions, a lot could happen at such locations such as warehousing, refrigeration, processing, hospitality, etc. If you have faith in the product, this is not just the private investor but the state and federal governments; it would be wise to given some provisions for some instability that could occur. The risk has to be shared to enable investors come in. However, it is important to learn lessons from the first PPPs which wouldn’t be perfect but you develop it over time. That was exactly what we did in the UK; there was stability and written assurances to drive investors that when they put their money in, the project would go ahead. There would also have to be checks and balance on the Key Performance Indicators which should adhered to. The punishments and penalties for violating such should also be clear.
One of the most highlighted challenge facing Nigerian ports operations is corruption. Is this peculiar to the nation’s ports and how do we eradicate it?
I am sure that corruption happens at all levels in government agencies or private institutions but you have to curb it because it can scare away genuine investors. If investors think that there is a process that is open to corruption at a level that is clearly unacceptable, that would frighten them.
The only way to eradicate corruption is top-down approach. A working formula should be developed and the right legislation provided to eradicate processes that allow corruption to thrive. You can’t just get rid of corruption suddenly. It is a gradual process. Corruption does exist in every country but it is in various degrees.
It is the responsibility of the enforcement agencies to ensure that when someone is caught, he or she is adequately punished in a clear and concise manner. The public has to get the message clear from the government though the enforcement agencies that corruption would not be tolerated in any form in the society irrespective of your position in an organization of public service. Until people understand that they would be caught, prosecuted and persecuted, they would continue to breed corruption.
How strategic is railway development to the success of TTPs in Nigeria?
Investment should go into the railways not just for the benefits of rail freight but also for its contribution to the nation’s effective transport system as well as the economy.
Railways are not so flexible because they won’t go to your house to deliver your goods or deliver the produce to the final location, but they provide a link that is crucial to the successful operations and maintenance of ports, roads and other transport systems.
While there is a railway system that is pretty good in the UK, the road haulage industry is still substantial and you need a good road network system and the TTPs to be there. I highlighted in my presentation that five (5) out of the eight (8) transnational highways go through Nigeria. They either go through Nigeria, start in Nigeria or end in Nigeria. This means that Nigeria is absolutely critical for the movement of goods across countries all over the continent. It also means that Nigeria would always be at the fore-front of international trade and transport across Africa.
One last word on how to develop Nigeria’s transport system.
One of the things that was clearly highlighted in the morning session today was that people know what is required but the problem is getting it done. However, the policy framework needs to be clear so that people also know what they can or can’t do. These frameworks and the guidelines should be backed up with some degree of certainty and assurances for the investors