By DAPO OLAWUNI
Dr. Billy Gillis-Harry is a member of the Governing Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN)
He is also the National President of Petroleum Products Retail Outlets Owners Association of Nigeria (PETROAN)
He represents the organised private sector on the CRFFN board, and he is currently the Vice Chairman, Compliance and Enforcement of the CRFFN.
In this interview with DAPO OLAWUNI, Dr. Gillis-Harry spoke the collection of the controversial Practitioners Operations Fee (POF) which is collectable by CRFFN at the port and the challenges facing the collection. He also frowned at the way freight forwarding associations were conducting themselves, especially in the face of recent threatened strike actions.
What are your thoughts on the practice of freight forwarding in Nigeria?
I am an ex Customs officer, and being on the CRFFN board has afforded me an opportunity to learn much more about the value of the freight forwarders in the economic growth of Nigeria.
CRFFN has been completely misunderstood, and it is important for all of us who are stakeholders to review some of the stories that have made the rounds since 2007 and see what is the reality
If we keep standing in the same location and running around in the same circle, we cannot achieve anything.
We see ANLCA, NAGAFF and others writing different things on CRFFN, the question I ask is, what exactly do this people desire as practitioners? Are they trying to professionalise the practice of freight forwarding and trying to really understand the full value chain of freight forwarding from the upstream, midstream and downstream? Or they are just only busy seating down, criticising and finding faults and looking for ways to just be selfish to the individual operators or their group, if their is even a group consensus.
On some of the things NAGAFF wrote, I called the president, I called some members, and they said they are not aware of it and that they are not in support of that.
On some of the things ANLCA wrote, I have called some of their top members and they said they cannot even understand where a Secretary comes to talk onbehalf of the Association when their was no consensus opinion. I have spoken to other smaller associations, and what I noticed is that everybody is fighting for himself, which is not bad because the bible says love your neighbour as you love yourself.
The Bill that established CRFFN is very faulty, it is filled with a lot of lacunas and grey areas, and these grey areas is what has made it very impossible for CRFFN to function in the way that it ought to. The CRFFN function is simple, to build a professional front for freight forwarders, build a professional team of freight forwarders and regulate their activities in such a way that nobody gets out of order.
NAGAFF and ANLCA are all privately registered organisations as Part 3; none profit making organisations, at best to do welfare for their members, I have never heard it where they would now say that they are downing tools and going on strike, it clearly shows that there is a misnomer in the way the people running these organisations think, anything they want to do, a party would pull out and say they are not in support, the other association would say they want to flex their muscles, you cannot flex muscles on something that is illegal.
Freight forwarders going on strike is just like petroleum marketers saying that they are going on strike, I am the national President of Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria, I am the head of all the filling station owners in the country, we are not a labour union, we are a Part 3 Association registered for the welfare of our members, we can go and argue about the government policy inimical to our growth, but we cannot go and declare that we are going on strike, this is similar to other associations that are on Part 3.
Freight forwarding profession is beyond clearing and forwarding, the clearing and forwarding is the downstream operations of freight forwarding chain, their are drivers that are freight forwarders, there are people who go and source for the cargo abroad, these are the upstream operators of the freight forwarding, the downstream are the transporters, the airlines, there is quite a lot of activities that goes in there, freight forwarding is a massive chain of operations.
The major bone of contention for the freight forwarding associations is POF collection, what is your take?
The POF is just like any source of revenue to maintain the standard of practice, whatever the government is making as subvention or making budgetary approvals is just a plus, the fact is that there has to be sufficient funding to make sure that Nigerian freight forwarders are at par with any other country in terms of the practice, and this is what POF is for, I have never seen any of the associations coming together to oppose POF, because they all know what the value of POF is for.
POF is meant to grow the capacity of the practitioners and ensure that the practice is standard, so I dont see why any individual should kick against it.
Why have the CRFFN not started collection? we heard that terminal operators refused to help collect the POF
Well, in anything that is being done in life, where a new process is introduced, it goes through a teething period, the
POF cannot just fly in the same day, it would crawl, it would stutter, then it would stand, walk and fly.
So, as far as POF is concerned, the CRFFN has been given the legal framework to collect it, in the past, the legal framework was not there, but today, the legal framework is an approval by Federal Executive Council, there is also a legislative process of regulation that has been developed to guide the process, most of the associations are also beneficiaries of the POF.
With all these in place, it is just a matter of enforcement, I do not think that any particular part of the maritime or transportation sector is the reason why POF collection is not being done, the reality is that, for anything that is going to work, there is a learning period, and POF would not be an exemption. Most of the times, people talk out of their emotional content, but I like to do things from empirical point of view, if there is no evidence, I dont talk about it.
Freight forwarding is the neck of the economy, and if you do not strengthen it well, the economy would always be bending.
So, it is a sector that positive attention has to be paid to, professionalisation of the practice is a key, ensuring that standards are improved on a daily basis is very absolute, and this would lead to a more efficient economy in Nigeria, there is no importation being done that the freight forwarders would not be involved, even in the military, the downstream is what we see customs agents come in and transfer to the truck drivers who deliver to the warehouse.
It is very critical that we as regulators stand tall to it, I am concerned that as a regulator, we are hearing intrigues from those who are supposed to make the practice much more dependable.
The public hearing for the CRFFN Act amendment was postponed, when is it likely to hold again?
Dont forget that this Bill has been in the National Assembly for over six years now, the Bill is long overdue for amendment, it has a lot of grey areas that needs to be reviewed and ensure that the bill itself is given the power to deliver on the mandate it has been given. If not for the lack of transportation, I believe the Bill should have gone through scrutiny at this time. I am told that everybody have submitted their inputs, which for me is a very good one, but there is nothing better than a face to face agreement and disagreements in matters like this, but I think it is still left to the National Assembly to be able to make decisions on what to do.
I got prepared to attend the public hearing, only for us to get to the National Assembly and we were told we cannot enter the gate because of the pandemic, so I came back to my house.
We were written to come for the hearing, we got prepared, printed our own position and ready to submit, but we were told to still submit it anyway, we are the organised private sector.
With the submission, it means that the public hearing might not hold again?
To my understanding, I am not an expert in legislative matters, but I do believe that for matters like this, it is always good to have a face to face discussion, but whatever method that is being used, I believe that everybody’s opinion would be heard before the Bill advances. We were told that almost everybody has submitted their positions to the National Assembly.