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Ports: Stakeholders Count Gains Of Commercial Regulation




ONE year and six months into its commercial regulation of Nigerian ports, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) has demonstrated that the Federal Government displayed great wisdom when it appointed it into the role, as it has recorded some gains to the delight of industry stakeholders.

The Executive Secretary of the Council, Barrister Hassan Bello and his management team have not only been keen on delivering on the Council’s mandate of enthroning an efficient port system that will facilitate trade in the nation’s ports and lead to increase in revenue generation for the country, they have been sagacious in executing the desired reforms in the industry and the system has been the key beneficiary.

Although some of its reform policies are still being contested in court, majority of ports stakeholders such as importers and freight forwarders have been full of commendations for the regulator for doing a good job.

Prior to December 2013 when the regulator was appointed, both consumers and providers of shipping services were having issues on shipping charges.

While the consumers of shipping services were aggrieved about some of the charges, the providers of shipping services defended them.

As an umpire, the ports regulator inherited this problem and had moved in swiftly to settle the matter. This led to the reduction of some shipping charges, a development that led to a fierce legal tussle between the NSC and the service providers.

The case is currently before the Court of Appeal, but in spite of that, the Council has continued to carry on with its statutory responsibilities with ardor, which has resulted in a lot of gains. Stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian, said there has been a lot of improvements in the way businesses were done at the ports when compared with the situation before.

A freight forwarder, Mr. Chuka Ofoegbuna, said the activities of the ports regulator has helped to protect the importers and their customs brokers against many infractions.

He explained that many service providers have been cautious in their dealings with consumers of shipping services than before.  “The presence of the regulator gives importers and freight forwarders confidence that they are safe in doing business at the ports.

It means they have an agency of government to report to when they have an issue with the providers of shipping services. Before now, this was not the so; there was nobody they could take their matter to,” he said.

Ofoegbuna said the Council has been addressing many problems, which importers lodge with it on a daily basis. This, he noted, comprises complaints against shipping companies or terminal operators, which the Council has been settling amicably.

“Many of them have had to commend the Council for intervening when they had problem with either shipping companies or terminal operators. But the Council also cautions them when they are seen to be wrong.

So, they are also advised to shun all forms of malpractices as   the Council cannot protect them on that,” he added. The ports regulator has also provided a platform to both the terminal operators and the shipping companies to take their grievances to when they are not happy with their landlord, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

The Guardian learnt that in one instance last year, the Council had intervened when the NPA wanted to increase its tariff against the terminal operators. The NPA had written a letter to the terminal operators introducing the charges but had to withdraw it when the economic regulator took up the matter.

Another gain of ports economic regulation is the current efforts in which every agency of government in the ports, including other stakeholders, are encouraged to be in one platform as part of the efforts to achieve efficiency.

It is one form of achieving fast clearing of goods at the ports as well as transparency among all the stakeholders.   Speaking on the initiative, the Executive Secretary of the NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello said the Council was working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) so that every payment reflects on the new platform.

The platform, he explained, would create a port community system involving every player, what he does, timing of activity and cost for such activity.    Bello said: “It is a command and control centre, which creates a nexus between all existing systems in the industry. It is a means of integration.

What the Council wants is to   make it easier for all stakeholders to benefit from what the Council is doing.  The platform is for agents, inspection stations or ship inspection, shipping companies, real infrastructure operators within the ports, ports authority, maritime administrators, customs, terminal operators, road haulers, exporters and transporters.

“The objective   is to establish a framework where the competitiveness of the industry will be enhanced beyond its neighbouring ports of Cotonou, Ghana, Cameroun, among others.

It is to improve safety, security, integration of an intelligent processing of data from all stakeholders and other information. Another objective is that it is a better way of tracking dangerous goods and risk mitigation. The measure will equally help in harmonising and simplifying administrative and clearance procedures.”

The reform policies of the NSC have also impacted positively on all stakeholders as they boast improved revenue generation and   profitability.  During a recent a review of the performance of the Council, Bello had explained that the effects of ports regulation had guaranteed return on the investment and increased profitability for the terminal operators.

He noted that the reforms the Council have enthroned have come with “improved revenue generation, improved infrastructure development, creation of efficient market, reduction of cost of doing business, improvement of the nation’s Global Competitive Index and consequent attraction of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for those in the transport and logistics chain.”

On the part of the shipping companies, he said there have been  “improved delivery of marine and terminal handling services that led to reduced turnaround time of vessel, reduced cost of vessel operations.”

On how the Customs Service has benefitted from the reforms, he said there has been positive achievement due to customs confidence, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness and consequent improvement in image. Other achievements of the Council according to him include “strengthening of complaint and arbitration mechanisms; prompt issuance of ship sailing certificate; and reduction in demurrage accumulation against shipping companies.”

He added: “For the NPA, there has been enthronement of clearer Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) derived from international laws and practices.

There has also been transparency, efficiency and effectiveness and improvement in image, revenue generation, competitive advantage in the sub-region, strengthening of complaint and arbitration mechanism.”

Bello said that “harmonisation of clearing processes and procedures and the consequent reduction in cost and time of cargo clearing; reduction of cargo duel time, strengthening of complaint and arbitration mechanisms” have had very positive impacts on both importers and customs brokers.

He also added that predictability in processes and procedures, assurance of level playing ground, and availability of common user information service have been made possible in the system by the regulator. “Importers are particularly happy that as the regulator, NSC has been able to handle their complaints positively without which they would have lost millions of Naira worth of investments,” noted.

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