Using the Right Instruments to Drive Ports Efficiency

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Francis Ugwoke

For the nation’s ports industry, the federal government’s reform agenda appears to be an enduring project. The exercise started in 2006 when the terminal handling operation was taken from the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and handed over to private investors under a concession programme. Since then, the federal government has continued to fill a lot of gaps left out during the implementation of the landlord port system in the country. Part of the reform was the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, about two years ago as an economic regulator. With the appointment, the NSC which over the years had played the role of protecting the interest of shippers now has a wide range of statutory responsibility as an umpire promoting trade facilitation at the ports. Now father of all consumers and providers of shipping services, the ports regulator’s responsibility among others, is to ensure efficiency and transparency in the ports. In effect, the aim is to ensure that Nigeria stands a chance of becoming a hub port of preference among other ports in the neighbouring West and Central African sub-region. As part of this, the NSC recently launched the Standard Operating Procedures, SOPs, and the Port Service Support Portal, PSSP. This will go a long way in promoting trade facilitation in Nigeria in line with international standard. It is equally part of the reform programme in the ports.

SOPs and PSSP
Both SOPs and PSSP are projects of the NSC under the Ministry of Transport. They are both instruments to ensure best international practices at the ports. SOPs followed the launch of Corruption Risk Assessment report by the federal government when a Committee chaired by the Ministry of Transport was set up in 2014. It is about instructions which clarify processes involving every stakeholder in port operation. It is a control measure to check various stakeholders in the ports. It is a guide to the trading public on expectations of every agency involved in port operation. On the other hand, PSSP, is a common place where stakeholders or consumers of services can lay their complaints in order to get redress. PSSP which can be accessed on www.pssp.ng is domiciled with the NSC which receives alert and attends to the complaints. It is an online portal where users of port services can interact with providers of shipping services. Through this, everyone, including the Ports Regulator can understand the challenges that the consumers of any shipping services faces at every point in time. It is a portal where confidential information is shared between the consumers and providers of shipping services during port operation. With the PSSP, any agency or shipper/individual can send their complaints to be addressed by the ports regulator.

Economic Benefits
At the launch recently, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, stressed their benefits to the ports industry and to a large extent the national economy. The SOPs and PSSP, Osinbajo said will remain instruments to check leakages as well as trade facilitation. He described SOPs as mainly to check corruption in the ports. He said: “In the face of dwindling revenue from oil, the federal government is more than ever determined to prevent leakages, remove impediments to trade and investments, and making our ports more competitive by pushing its anti-corruption and economic diversification drive to a logical conclusion.”

To the VP, improved procedure in the ports was necessary as it will make trade easy in the country, adding that it was important for easy delivery for imported goods as well as for export goods to leave the country with ease. He said the SOPs and PSSP were in line with the economic blueprint of the federal government and described them as laudable and a major achievement in the effort by the Transport Ministry for efficiency and transparency in the ports. According to him, productivity can only increase only in atmosphere of transparency and efficiency. Osinbajo expressed optimism that the two instruments will contribute in making Nigerian ports efficient, cost effective and competitive in such a way that Nigeria will be a regional Hub. He Commended the Ministry of Transport, NSC and the UNDP for their efforts in introducing the programme, and urged all stakeholders to ensure that the 48-Hour Clearance of Vessels and Cargoes was realisable, one of the reasons for introducing SOPs and PSSP. The VP also reminded the supervisory Ministry and NSC that it was not enough to have such integrity platforms, but the full implementation.

The vice president charged port sector players to do all that is required to achieve 48-hour clearance of vessels and cargoes, and to make the nation’s ports efficient, cost effective and competitive to the extent of becoming a regional trade hub. He said: “Chief Executive Officers are hereby directed to send their Letters of Commitment on the Implementation of the SOP and the PSSP to the Honourable Minister of Transportation. The CEOs will be held accountable for any lapses, and of course, will be commended for the success and quality of services rendered by the personnel of their Agencies”.

He described the two platforms as technological instruments, and called for the use of technology in the fight against graft. He said: “It is important to bear in mind that technology remains one of the most important ways by which we can control corruption aside from the consequences of ensuring that corrupt officials are made to face its consequences.”
During the launch, the Advisor, Peace and Development of UNDP, Mr. Takwa Zebulon, who represented the Country Director, Pa Lamin Beyai, assured that the agency was committed in its support for the government on the project. He said that with effective system and enabling environment, Nigeria’s corruption perception index can improve positively. He added that with this Nigerian ports will not only render statutory services, but become the preferred hub for the sub-region.

Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi , during the occasion explained that the initiative of drafting , adoption and harmonisation of SOPs of port operations was to enhance transparency and accountability. Amaechi said the platforms will bring about user friendly business environment in the ports for greater economic performance.

He added: “The SOP is generally regarded as a work reference guide that informs the general public on the process map of each port agency and operator. It will thus guide customers on what to expect at the ports and what they need to do to received good quality services. The SOP helps to establish operational standards, fosters accountability and thus will serve as a corruption prevention tool.”

SOPs, he added, will minimise variation and promote quality through consistent implementation of processes or procedures within the organisation. He said this will happen even if there were temporary or permanent personnel changes.
“We are certain that unwholesome practices by service providers at the ports will be greatly reduced, if not completely eliminated. It will become easier to detect culprits and defaulters and sanction them”.

“SOP and the PSSP will make openness and transparency in port operations mandatory and will serve as tools for mainstreaming compliance to set standards for assessing compliance to procedure in a transparent manner. Furthermore, adherence of all to the SOPs being launched today will enhance credibility and legal defensibility of actions emanating from the ports. It promises to make our ports competitive, creating the enabling environment for improved revenue.
“It is not contestable that having SOPs will contribute to knowledge management in the various organisations at our ports, as it would be used as part of their personnel work instructions and training programme, it is more important that the SOP can be used to achieve compliance with organisational requirements and governmental policies.”

The Executive Secretary, NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, said the focus of the council as the ports economic regulator was to make sure that the nation’s ports were efficient. Bello said the Council was concerned about the dwell time of cargo in the nation’s ports, automation and all best practices. Automation, according to him, will limit leakages in revenue drive of the federal government at the ports as it will address the issue of corruption. Bello, a lawyer, called for legislation on SOPs and PSSP in the National Assembly for all agencies to know their roles and apparently take them more seriously. He assured that the SOPs will be enforced in the ports to achieve the desired objective of the federal government. Since the launch, freight forwarders have described both SOPs and PSSP as good for the industry. Deputy President of National Council of Managing Director of Customs Agent, Mr. Ben U Ndee said they will check corruption in the ports, if concerned agencies are compelled to comply. He described corruption in the ports as “shamelessly embedded in all agencies in the industry”. Former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Dr. Eugene Nweke said freight forwarders were in support of both SOPs and PSSP because of their benefits to the industry. Nweke said both technological platform will lead to proper accountability and speedy resolution of issues, and enjoined practitioners to embrace them as part of the fight against corruption and promotion of trade facilitation.

– Ugwoke, a journalist, wrote from Apapa