Trucks waiting to load petroleum products at a tank farm

The recent introduction of online registration of coastal vessels operating in Nigeria’s territorial waters and fuel retail outlets in the country by the Department of Petroleum Resources will enhance the digitalisation of operations in the downstream sector and improve the country’s position in the global Ease of Doing Business ranking. Ejiofor Alike reports

Despite recent improvements, Nigeria ranks poorly in the global Ease of Doing Business report, as enormous environmental challenges still face local and international investors who want to do business in the country. Prospective investors are alarmed that Nigeria’s operating environment is laced with landmines and pitfalls from the stage of business registration to actual operation, which hamper inflow of investments into the country.

Actual and potential investors in the oil and gas sector, for instance, are challenged by high level of insecurity, long contracting cycle, lack of respect for the sanctity of contracts, inconsistency of policies, as well as overregulation and bureaucracy.

In 2017, the country moved up 24 places in the World Bank’s Doing Business report to the 145th position, through the consistent efforts of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who chaired the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelemah.

Despite this improvement in Nigeria’s position, the country-specific risks, especially in the oil and gas sector, have continued to make the country a high-risk environment for investors.

 

DPR’s Digitisation Initiative 

To reduce the operating risks and improve the ease of doing business in the oil and gas sector, the DPR recently commenced the process of digitalisation of operations in the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry. In line with this initiative, the regulatory authority has terminated the old manual system of application for coastal vessel license.

The DPR had been implementing the central electronic license and permit system, which is a repository system for managing the application and processing of all electronic permits and licenses processed and issued by the agency. Now, the Downstream Division of the agency has come up with a strategy for the automation and digitalisation of all approvals, permits and licenses issued in the Division under the name, Automated Downstream System. This is in line with one of the visions of the Director of DPR, Mr. Mordecai Danteni Baba Ladan, to digitalise and automate all paper-based approvals, permits, and licenses. Consequently, a committee was mandated to design, develop and implement an online application system for processing of coastal vessel license with the vendor, BrandOne Technologies Limited, selected by the DPR.

It was learnt that after several presentations and meetings, BrandOne Technologies Limited offered to commence the project with a pilot test for the regulatory agency to use the online coastal vessel license portal for a period of three months. The pilot phase proved to be very effective within the stipulated time and the company was asked to deploy the live system on DPR’s Microsoft Azure Cloud infrastructure.

THISDAY gathers that the solution is currently online and can be accessed by the general public anywhere and anytime.

The old method had required a cumbersome process before approvals, permits and licenses would be issued to qualified marketers. But the new system being implemented now makes it easy for oil marketers to apply for coastal vessel license.

According to the DPR, coastal vessel license portal involves the automation of the application process, payments, inspections, presentations, approvals and inventory of issued permits and licenses. Verification of permits and licenses are done on the coastal vessel license portal to ensure accountability and a work flow that tracks every stage in the approval process on the portal.

The approach adopted for the design of Coastal Vessel License Portal is simple, easy to use and user-friendly, as it is also designed to be accessible on any desktop and mobile web browser. The technology used for the design and implementation of the coastal vessel license portal allows for speedy loading of the portal and data submission.

The permits and licenses issued by DPR’s Retail Outlet and Marketing unit also form part of the ADS being implemented by the regulatory agency. The committee that was set up in the ROM Unit worked with one of the agency’s vendors to come up with an online solution called “ROMS Portal” for Category A, B, C Licenses, which is an acronym for Retail Outlet Management System Portal. The solution is currently online and can also be accessed by the general public.

Application for Category A, B, C Licenses comprises Category A – Petroleum Storage License; Category B – Petroleum Storage and Sales License; and Category C – Kerosene Peddling License.

With the old manual system, the process of the application for Category A, B, C Licenses was cumbersome and involved a time-consuming procedure before approvals, permits and licenses were issued to qualified marketers. But the new system being implemented by ROM Unit makes it easy for marketers to apply for Category A, B, C Licenses.

ROMS Portal involves the automation of the application process, payments, inspections, presentations, approvals and inventory of issued approval, permits and licenses. Verification of approvals, permits, and licenses are done on ROMS portal.

 

Expected Benefits 

DPR’s latest initiative complies with the Executive Order issued last year by Osinbajo, who was then acting president, on ease of doing business. In May last year, Osinbajo had signed three executive orders expected to enhance Nigeria’s position in the ease of doing business ranking. Among other benefits, the executive orders were expected to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks that hampered the growth of businesses in Nigeria.

The three executive orders, according to a statement from the then office of the acting president, had focused on specific instructions on a number of policy issues. The issues included “the promotion of transparency and efficiency in the business environment designed to facilitate the ease of doing business in the country; timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by all statutory and non-statutory agencies, including companies owned by the federal government; and support for local contents in public procurement by the federal government.” 

The executive orders were also meant to attract back to Nigeria companies that had relocated to other countries. The government also said it was committed to ensuring that the country moved up 20 places from the 2016 ranking by World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index in the first year and be among the top 100 in the next three years.

Before the 2017 ranking, Nigeria was in 2016 ranked 169 out of 189 countries by the World Bank Ease of Doing Business report.

The online registration of coastal vessels will improve the turnaround time as well as ease processing of applications for coastal vessel licences. The new system will bring about transparency and eliminate the duplication of document upload and work across the agency’s zonal offices.

The system has created a central dashboard that will give a quick report on all the licences and permits issued electronically and improve ease of payment confirmation and reconciliation. It also targets to reduce the cost of printing manual permits/licences and the cost of courier services from the agency’s 24- field offices to the Lagos headquarters.

The system will also reduce the influx of staff of companies applying for Coastal Vessel License into the agency’s offices.

In the area of retail outlet management, the new digitalisation initiative also complies with the Executive Order issued by the federal government on ease of doing business. It will improve the turnaround time and bring about transparency and ease processing applications for Category A, B, and C licences.

The digitalisation of downstream operations in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector will not only enhance ease of doing business in the country but also eliminate malpractices by industry operators.