Multiple government agencies at the ports
Complaints about the presence of multiple government agencies at the ports came to the fore the other day as worries and confusion trail duplicity of functions. Importers and exporters are being subjected to untold hardship by overzealous officials, thereby causing avoidable delays and adversely affecting the economy.
This is not exactly new, but nothing has been done to eliminate it and Nigeria’s image is thereby dented. It is therefore, high time the Federal Government addressed this lingering problem in port operations in the country.
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) is unhappy about the numerous agencies at the ports, the duplication of regulations and clash of interests.
According to NAGAFF, the agencies operate outside their mandates as stipulated in the Acts establishing them, thereby, frustrating importers and clearing agents.
NAGAFF says the maritime industry desperately needs sanity, especially, now that revenue from crude oil has dropped drastically.
According to it, over the years, people just find their ways into the ports under different guises and start extorting money from port users.
For example, when a vessel arrives, five or more agencies will be forcing their ways into the vessel to the chagrin of the crew whose vessel may have berthed at other organised ports seamlessly.
Whereas, there are supposed to be only two agencies authorised internationally to go onboard, Nigeria is seen as a jungle by the international community going by the way things are done here.
NAGAFF laments that the Nigeria Customs Service arbitrarily gives itself revenue targets officially and unofficially. The official targets are declared publicly while the unofficial revenue targets are for personal purse of officials
The group regrets that over the years, the agencies have capitalized on the confusion at the ports to rip off users, thereby making Nigerian ports the most expensive and unfriendly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Huge sums of money have been lost by both the government and private individuals due to this insidious actions of the officials.
NAGAFF says standardisation of port operations is the solution to the on-going confusion and standardisation engenders sanity as experienced in other economies, eliminates corruption and other sinister tendencies at the ports.
The group has also applauded the Standard Operating Procedure and Port Services Support Portal introduced by the Federal Government, aimed at entrenching standardization in port operations in the country.
Apart from corruption, it is not known why so many agencies converge at the ports at the same time waiting for the same goods and performing practically the same functions and processes!
The fact that Nigeria’s ports are the most expensive and the most unfriendly is well known but unfortunately, government prefers to turn a blind eye to the problem. The result is that Nigeria’s ports are not competitive.
Earlier in the year, Nigeria reportedly lost a whopping N200 billion to diversion of car imports to Cotonou Port in neighbouring Republic of Benin.
Manipulation of tariff rates by the various government agencies at the ports gas been reported as being responsible.
Multiple port charges imposed by the agencies are also a major problem hindering government’s trade facilitation programmes.
Tracing capability, speed, poor yard planning and spacing, online accessibility of pricing and quick debt note reconciliation make goods clearance at the ports expensive.
Importers pay Customs duties and levies that are not uniform in most of the nation’s sea ports. The 7 per cent development levy; one per cent comprehensive import supervision scheme; 0.5 per cent ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme; NIMASA/NPA Sea Protection Levy (SPL); haulage cost, transportation and terminal operator progressive stage charges, among others, contribute to the disparity in the cost of doing business in Nigeria’s ports compared to others in the West Africa sub-region. These charges are then duplicated by the various agencies and imposed on port users.
Worldwide, the Customs Department or service is the only authorised government agency that stays at the ports. There could be police post within the precincts of a port likewise the other agencies. The job of the Customs is all- embracing and includes detecting fake or substandard goods and handing the offenders to the appropriate agency.
Saying that there is massive corruption at the ports is an understatement. The way out of this obvious disgrace is for government to enforce international best practices.