By DAPO OLAWUNI
A maritime stakeholder and publisher of Shipping World Magazine, Elder Asu Beks has berated the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi for frustrating the disbursement of the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF) saying that the minister has no excuse not to disburse the money to Nigerian shipowners.
Elder Asu Beks who was speaking as a guest on a radio programme “ViewPoint” last weekend, noted that the CVFF is a fund contributed by Nigerian shipowners, and it is meant to grow indigenous capacity.
He lamented that for the past 17-years, the CVFF has been collected by the apex maritime agency; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) without accountability or disbursement to qualified shipowners.
The frontline maritime stakeholder called on President Muhammadu Buhari to launch a forensic audit into the CVFF fund to determine the actual amount in the purse.
According to him, the NIMASA management have sent names of 11 banks to the transport minister, out of which he is expected to nominate 4 banks for the disbursement to commence.
Recall that the Cabotage law came into force in year 2004 under the then Minister of Transportation, Abiye Sekibo. It was meant to grow local content among Nigerian shipowners and crews.
For 17 years, the CVFF is being collected in American Dollars to assist Nigerians in acquiring vessels, but not a penny has been disbursed.
However, from 2004 till date, every successive administration at NIMASA has continued to give excuses why the CVFF cannot be disbursed.
Speaking on the delayed disbursement, Elder Beks stated that “The number of Nigerian vessels in Cabotage register is not encouraging at all.
The CVFF does not belong to the Federal Government, it is a contribution by the shipowners meant to grow their business”
“When Jamoh (NIMASA Director General) came into office, he assured that before the end of 2020, the money would be distributed. Part of the problem is the overbearing influence of the supervising Ministry to Transportation, shipowners have on many occasions engaged the current minister, Rotimi Amaechi, they don’t seem to have confidence in his willingness to disburse the fund”
“In Nigeria political system, people want to create empires for themselves, but the fact is that we are killing our maritime sector”
“When Covid-19 pandemic came, we saw interventions from the various sectors of the economy for businesses, including the aviation sector, but we did not see a single intervention from the maritime sector”
“Some of us felt that it was an opportunity for the Minister to fast track disbursement of the CVFF, but as we speak, NIMASA management’s have sent names of 11 banks to the minister, he should please nominate 4 out of the names sent to him so that disbursement can commence”
“The DG of NIMASA is already feeling frustrated because he came with a mindset of disbursing the fund, we should not even blame Buhari for the lack of disbursement, it is the fault of Rotimi Amaechi”
“He is the only Minister that has lasted six years in office unlike the others that lasted just two years or three years, he is lucky to be cruising towards 8-years in office, so he has no excuse not to disburse the fund, otherwise we would go to the President and demand for a minister of maritime affairs, let Rotimi Amaechi face aviation” Elder Asu Beks stated
He commended Amaechi for doing an excellent job in the Nigerian rail sector.
He however said the Minister has emasculated his Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemi Saraki whom he had earlier announced would be in charge of maritime sector and its agencies.
Speaking further, Elder Asu Beks said “We need to carryout a forensic audit of the CVFF fund to know the actual money that has been collected in the past 17-years.
The Local Content Law has raked over USD800million in 2019 alone, but anytime we inquire about the figures in CVFF from the Ministry, the only figure we hear is USD200million”
He advised the Nigerian shipowners groups to address the infighting amongst them, so as not to give government excuses of not disbursing the CVFF money.
He said the Nigerian shipowners should be allowed to pick members of implementation committee of CVFF, and not the Minister handpicking an implementation Committee.
He also said that NIMASA as the lead maritime agency in Nigeria should have a level of autonomy like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) enjoys under the Ministry of Finance, without so much overbearing influence of the Minister.
Elder Asu Beks equally noted that the waiver clause in the Cabotage law has been abused as Nigerian waterways is dominated by foreign vessels and crews.