Maritime Agenda for Transport and Finance Ministers

Maritime Agenda for Transport and Finance Ministers
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and Rotimi Amaechi, Transport Minister

Nigeria’s maritime industry has suffered poor policy implementation, inconsistent administrators, lack of skilled manpower, corruption, among other factors; these have resulted to failure in actualizing the enormous potentials available in our maritime sector.

After the appointment of the long awaited ministerial cabinet, the tension and anxiety occasioned by the longevity of the process has dissipated, nevertheless, the Nigerian maritime populace has placed high expectations on the Minister of Transport Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adesun.

There are several reasons to be worried about recent activities in the maritime sphere. Our port roads have become synonymous to gridlocks, when trucks and tankers are not falling on vehicles they are cloaking the roads, where is our rail system? Where are our national carriers either via air or sea? Why does the cost of importing continue to the rise? Indigenous companies are complaining and the same is true of freight forwarders.

Things have to be done properly and people have been appointed to ensure these maritime problems are addressed. They are the ministers of Transport and Finance, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Mrs. Kemi Adesun and maritime stakeholders have set the agenda for these ministers.

The Chairman Ports Consultative Council, Otunba Folarin spoke to MMS on his agenda for the ministers of Transport and Finance…

He admonished both ministers to see their appointments as an opportunity to serve and respond to the aspirations of stakeholders in the maritime industry and make an impact on the Nigerian economy.

Amaechi has to deliver because the transportation system drives the entire economic process. The government would be left without revenue if it cannot export its goods and services. We produce oil and gas, but without transporting them they will not become revenue for the government. Any vehicle that drives such process cannot be ignored because revenue generation is essential to running the government.

The transport minister has to look at intermodalism as one of the factors that will drive the entire transportation industry. Linking railways to the ports and connecting aviation also should be the agenda so we can have the opportunity to increase productivity and move cargo from the ports without using a single mode of transportation. Long distance haulage should also be via the rail to ease vehicular movement of goods and people.

There are issues within the maritime sector the minister will have to locate. They include infrastructure which should be a core mandate particularly with respect to the fact that most of the infrastructure in the port industry needs renewal while some need absolute replacement to conform to the modern technologically driven processes in operation and documentation.

Another matter is to build a viable and veritable port community that works on technologically driven processes to establish interconnectivity within the port system so that all stakeholders can link and be able to respond to issues with minimum time delay because we are operating in a very competitive environment in the region.

There is also a need for manpower development to build capacity to be able to have skilled workforce that can deliver and increase productivity to ensure that we have a competitive stance as Nigeria looks forward to becoming the principal driver of port operations in the West and Central-African region.

These things are essential to grow the industry and in particular, to look at making Nigeria her beneficiary of her international trade. Our international trade is vast, over 24 billion is spent on importing goods and services into Nigeria and Nigerians have to benefit from the very wide and sophisticated process.

On aviation, Nigeria has no national carrier at the moment. The most important thing is to ensure that we have good terminals, runways, lighted and instrument landing system is installed so that we have an aviation environment that responds to modern ways of doing aviation that is the key to eliminating the issues of crashes and darkness in the runway.

The minister of Finance, Kemi Adesun oversees the Customs and the Customs operate within the maritime industry. I suggest that the Customs Service be overhauled. There is already a process but we have to remove face to face contact at the ports with Customs. The Customs process must be ICT driven and they must be able to link with other stakeholders in the maritime community. The importer, exporter, banks, insurance companies must be linked with Customs server so that we have reduction in face to face contact and reduction in manual processes in the ports. The issue of cargo going to neighbouring countries should be addressed so more goods should be encouraged to come through the seaports and airports rather than the land borders. Kemi must ensure that revenue generation is increased.

There should be incentives to manufacturers and incentives to ensure that indigenous companies thrive. To protect them from unfair competition and pressure from some foreign companies all over the world that dump goods in Nigeria. This has to be checked although; this means that the Nigerian companies have to raise their quality which will be possible if there are incentives. The incentives could be via reduction in duties for machinery that are used in the process by the industries. This will ensure that employment is generated as Nigerian produced goods are given preference over foreign produced goods.

MMS also reached the president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Eugene Nweke to bears his mind on the mandate for the minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adesun.

They must be ready to take a stand and ensure they do not stray from the standards. Our port operations should be CFS (container freight station) to CFS (containers Freight Station). This means that goods should be packed into containers at the port of origin and unpacked at the port of destination at the carriers risk and expense.

Rotimi Amaechi should go back to study the recommendations, write ups and files on the transport industry especially those addressed to the minister. He should develop a national transport policy plan. It ought to be a transitional one that can be carried from one year to another and from one administration to the other. There must be a road map. Amaechi’s plans to complete existing projects and fix the rail system are commendable. It is time for us to quit white elephant projects that are never completed.

As for Kemi’s appointment as the minister of finance, we expect the best. She is someone who has the confidence of most stakeholders and I am especially happy and impressed that she is in charge of finance. Kemi was not imposed on us by the World Bank. We needed someone who knows the industry and understands our peculiar problems. Kemi is definitely the ideal person for job.

There are several changes that should be made in the Finance ministry one of them is the issue of granting waivers. Waivers ought to be mechanisms employed by countries to meet their economic goals, especially in protecting local industries, creating jobs, promoting exports, as well as generating and preserving foreign exchange, but that is not the case here as the foreigners are exploiting us. The era of granting waivers should be over.

Kemi should know that she has also assumed the position of the chairman of the Customs board and the Customs and the CGC, Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd) may not succeed if the finance minister doesn’t review the existing financial policies of the government.

The CGC has been using threats as a tool to eschew corruption and reform the customs, but this can be counterproductive because a man who is threatened or afraid wouldn’t perform at this best. We must act rather than allow the CGC use threats. We need policies and structures put in place to ensure the wind of positive change is effective.

The issue of corruption in the Customs leaves a lot to be desired. Isn’t the government the first culprit here – why give targets to the Customs without a defined statistics on how the revenue ought to be generated? Instead of giving revenue targets to the Customs, why not give world trade targets?

We must bring back the system operated in Ghana ports, Cotonou ports, and Togo ports to be able to advance our ports. We should look at our infrastructural policies; the Nigerian Customs officers are first Nigerians as such if the right things are put in place the desire for corruption will dissipate.

The President of Shippers Association Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol expressed distress with the current state of the Shipping sector and his expectations on the Transport and Finance ministers…

The minister of transport should be keen on addressing problems that have led shippers to migrate from Nigerian ports to other African ports. The issues include the high tariffs, for instance, the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) caps problems extracts a lot of money from the shippers. Another one is NAFDAC, their tariff is also complex and tiring. The ministries of Transport and Finance have to reverse some of these government policies.

For the ministry of Finance, the foreign exchange is creating a lot of problems at the moment. So many people cannot clear their goods at the ports because the government wants to know how they got the funds to buy the goods. The minister of Finance will have to look for a way to review the ban on foreign exchange which is already affecting the industry grossly. Some industries cannot cope as they cannot import raw materials they need, now they operate with less than 50% cost and a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result. We have sacrificed a lot for this country and we believe that it is time the ministry of finance look into this issue.

The issue of Customs tariff should be addressed, some of the payments on the items are too high and we have shippers and importers leaving the country as a result. I think they should put efforts to make sure we don’t lose any further cargo which is not good for the economy.

Furthermore, the ministries should help the Nigerian Shippers Council to be on their feet to enable them with laws that would allow them regulate the ports with purpose. The NSC seems to be struggling at the moment.

Last week we learnt that a container fell off a truck in Lagos and landed on a car as result of the pot holes. This underscores the dire need to fix the roads. The trucks may have container hooks but it wasn’t made for such bad roads.

Another maritime bigwig, the President of the Freight forwarding Trade Group of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mrs. Julie A. Ogboru bears her mind on the ideal agenda for the ministers of Transport and Finance.

We want a change in the maritime industry. They should transform our port system into what is obtainable abroad. One should be able to arrive at the ports and successfully conclude his or her transactions on one spot and on that same day. There are so many charges and too many agencies attached to freight forwarding in Nigeria. Can’t we have a single cost or a point where all charges could be paid at once; as it is obtainable in Lebanon and several other countries?

They should look into these issues but the thing is that these ministers are new. Having them as ministers is like buying a new car, the only  way to test it is to go in and drive it . Similarly, I would advise we relax and see what agenda they have. One thing is certain, we need the best! If they perform below our expectations we will start talking and dragging them to see their lapses.

Rotimi Amaechi should know that the transport industry is a trouble spot. He should know what he is going to meet or what he is already into. The state of the transport sector along with power has begun to drive many companies away.

The Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) also voiced his expectations from the ministers of Transport and Finance.

Our major constraint is the deplorable state of the roads. The port environment especially Tincan and Apapa roads are too bad. We have agencies that are supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of the roads, perhaps they were waiting for the appointment of the minister. It is time for them to wake up to their responsibility of fixing the roads.

Apart from that, the operations of the trucks at the ports have become a nightmare as a result of the unavailability of a befitting truck park. Most of the trucks coming from different parts of the country use the roads as their parking lot and this is not the best. This is affecting truck owners and also having a negative effect on the economy as a result of impaired vehicular movement.

“I want the minister of Transport to address the problem of rickety trucks. We need government’s intervention through these ministries of Transport and Finance so that we can access a soft loan that will enable us to replace our trucks. We have started discussions with some truck assembling plants here in Nigeria and overseas but we don’t have the financial power to acquire such trucks therefore we call on the government via the ministries to see how he can assist us to replace our trucks through National Automotive Council” he added.

The best advice we can give to Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adesun is to give a listening ear to the yearnings of the stakeholders in the maritime industry. We expect to see the developments from the change mantra they symbolize in the industry, hence they should start early in their bids to resolve these worrisome maritime issues and make the industry a better place.

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