N’Assembly, Stakeholders Synergise for Ports Devt

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In a bid to ensure that the nation’s maritime industry contributes more to the national economy at such a period of economic recession, critical stakeholders, mainly chief executives of agencies of government and members of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways are collaborating on the way forward, writes Francis Ugwoke

With the ravaging recession, every hand appears to be on deck to create an economic environment that will see the country come out of the economic crisis. Beginning with the executive and legislative arms of government, even when tempers flared, there had been situations when issues were resolved amicably for the sake of the economic wellbeing of the country.

This has been the situation with members of the National Assembly having to soft-pedal on their hard stance against certain policies of the executive. In the nation’s maritime sector, there are several instances in which members of the National Assembly and the agencies of government have been collaborating to develop the industry. This was again displayed last week when stakeholders from the industry and members of the National Assembly converged on Lagos for a retreat on the way forward for the industry. The retreat was actually the idea of members of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways which is under the leadership of Dr. Patrick Asadu.

Agencies and Legislators
The maritime sector is seen as a very strategic industry to the national economy. It is adjudged as next to oil in terms of contribution to the economy. It would be truly so once the country is able to move from the current crude oil trade terms of Free on Board (FOB) to Cost, Insurance and Freight (CIF). Under FOB, the buyers of the nation’s crude oil determine who to give the contract of the transportation of the goods.

However, under CIF trade terms, Nigerian companies that have the capacity will be allowed to carry the nation’s crude oil. This would mean a lot of economic gains as what is now lost to foreigners in terms of cost of transportation will be a national gain accruing mostly in foreign exchange. Talking about the agencies of government in the ports and the legislature, one would say that there has been a robust relationship. Being an industry that is technical, one has noticed the cool-headedness of most members of the Senate or the House Committee in the maritime industry to study the sector. Although the legislators have always kicked when the need arises during their visits for oversight functions, such issues have always been settled for the sake of moving the sector forward. Last week, members of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways organised a retreat in Eko Hotel, Lagos.

During the retreat, among the objective was the maritime sector’s economic development. The Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Usman, had captured the objectives of the retreat as part of the commitment of members of the National Assembly to cooperate with the executive to realise the development goals and objectives set for the sector. Usman had observed that indeed, the House was concerned about bringing the sector up to speed with international standards. She observed that the House Committee was desirous in creating suitable synergy between the National Assembly and the Transport Ministry. The retreat was attended by virtually every chief executive of the government agencies in the maritime industry, Bureau of Public Enterprise, BPE, among others.

Synergy and Devt
For unity of purpose, the federal government agencies in the maritime industry are currently working together to move the sector forward. This is apparently on realising the gains of such collaboration. In the past, this was not exactly so. Without making any attempts to reopen sad issues of the past between some of the agencies, one had cases where there was rivalry among them. It was such that even some of the chief executives were not enjoying smooth relationship among themselves. Matters were even made worse as a result of conflict of roles between some of the agencies. These issues have, however, been addressed. The current scenario in the sector is one of collaboration between all the agencies of government. This has, in turn, encouraged development. The agencies are all currently spearheading different development projects that will impact positively on the sector.

The management of the NPA has been involved in improving infrastructure that will enhance port operations.
Similarly, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, headed by Hassan Bello, has also been involved in the campaign of achieving efficiency, cost reduction in shipping services, among others. The regulator has particularly been spearheading automation among the agencies to bring the ports to what obtains in other advanced countries. Every stakeholder among the agencies has keyed into this project and the result is beginning to show in terms of efficiency in shipping services, including other service providers.

As the ports economic regulator, the council in a bid to ensure that shipping services are taken to high level, launched the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the Port Service Support Portal (PSSP). As a project of the Transport Ministry, both SOPs and PSSP are seen as part of the reform agenda to promote trade in the nation’s ports. While SOPs are interpreted as instructions which clarify processes involving every stakeholder in port operation, PSSP is an online portal where users of port services can interact with providers of shipping services, including the NSC. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is not left out as the Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, is currently repositioning the agency to do more in its core statutory functions, including addressing the issues of security, capacity building and indigenous shipping development, among others.

NTC, Ports and Harbour Bills, Others
During the retreat, one major issue that came up was the need for the passage of the Transport Bills now in the National Assembly. Some of the bills have been with the National Assembly for about six years without very serious progress. The only bill that has made some progress in the House is the National Transport Commission (NTC) bill, which has passed the Second Reading. With the passage of the bill, the federal government wants a situation in which the NSC transforms into the NTC. The ports regulator is considered as most suitable for the transformation because of its expertise, structure and capacity for the job.

Besides, stakeholders believe that under the current economic situation, it will be cost effective for the NSC to simply transform as NTC to save government the cost involved in establishing a brand new commission that will still depend on the Council for some expertise. Other bills include the Ports and Habours, and Inland Waterways Authority. During the retreat, the Transport Minister, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, stressed the need for a review and amendment of the moribund regulations in the maritime industry. Amaechi pointed out the laws as those in conflict with the Federal Government’s powers on inland waterways, ports management and operations.

Usman had, during the retreat, called on the National Assembly to pass the NTC, Ports and Harbours Bills and other maritime bills before it to boost port development plan. According to her, there was an urgent need to pass the bills to replace the existing obsolete laws, which according to her were not supportive of developmental goals of the country.

Similarly, the Acting Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Dr Vincent Akpotaire, had urged the National Assembly to pass the NTC, Ports and Harbour and other bills as part of the port reform agenda. According to Akpotaire, the non-passage of the bills has affected the effectiveness of the critical aspects of the port reform. The passage of the Ports and Harbour Bill, he explained will strengthen the NPA as the landlord and technical regulator in the system, while the passage of the NTC bill will assist in the establishment of a commission as the economic regulator for all the transport modes apart from the aviation sector.