…Says NTC Bill Not Seeing Light of Day
By DAPO OLAWUNI
Even though the Nigerian Shippers Council as the Port Economic Regulator has over the years been described as a “toothless bulldog” due to its lack of powers to prosecute erring stakeholders, the Executive Secretary of the Council, Hon Emmanuel Jime is championing moves to ensure that the Act establishing the agency is reviewed by the National Assembly.
Jime spoke with selected maritime journalists in his office in Apapa Lagos on Monday while receiving an award recently bestowed on the Council by the Coalition of Maritime Truck Unions and Association (COMTUA) from the National Cordinator of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT), Comrade Moses Fadipe.
Hon Jime lamented that the National Transport Bill (NTC) which seeks to transmute the Shippers Council into a more powerful agency might no not see the light of the day, adding that the Bill has been passed three times and President Muhammadu Buhari has declined his signatures for passages of the Bill twice.
Apart from the challenge of lack of power of enforcement as a Regulator, Hon Jime said the Council is currently confronted with lack of adequate funding to carryout it’s mandate.
According to him the agency’s main source of revenue generation is the 2-percent from the 7-percent Port Development Levy collection at the port. He said that this is not enough to implement the agency’s mandate.
Speaking, the Shippers Council boss noted that “Not too long ago, the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill was being processed by the National Assembly, the idea was that Shippers Council would utlimately become part and parcel of the NTC which would be a more bigger outfit with an enabling legal structure that would allow it perform the limitations I have highlighted.
“Unfortunately, that Bill have not seen the light of day, it has been passed about three times, by my records, Mr President has declined his signatures twice, there was a third attempt, there wasn’t a decline, but there was not also an assent.
“So, from the point of view of a lawmaker, I can say that the Bill for now would not be seeing the light of day, that’s my understanding for now. I believe that the National Assembly are still looking into it.
“There is another legislative instrument being processed at the National Assembly, the OMNIBUS which at the same begining included some elements of the Nigeria Shippers Council’s functions which could have strengthened out activities here.
“But my information is that because the NTC was being processed, then the aspect of the Shippers Council in the OMNIBUS Bill was excluded when the Bill was finally being presented to the National Assembly, otherwise, I would say that this is another angle of addressing these challenges.
“However, the last thing I intend to do is to work with the legal department of the Nigerian Shippers Council in other for us to process the legal requirements under the Nigerian Shippers Council Act in other to see to an amendment for this Act.
“Of course, we are not able to escalate that process by ourselves to the National Assembly, we must route it through the supervising Ministry of Transportation, that is what I am looking at, since the other efforts are not leading us to where we want to go.
“The imperative of a review of the Shippers Council Act is not lost on me, I truly believe there is a need to have that review, we would use whatever means is available to us, whether it is to work with our parent ministry, the Ministry of Transportation, and hopefully if it gets to the National Assembly, we would also look at how to fast track the current legal system and find a way of getting it reviewed.”
“I have always said that the legal environment and the legal structure of the Nigerian Shippers Council is self limiting, it does not allow us to perform our functions as effectively and efficiently as we could.
“Because of the limitations in the Shippers Council Act, our ability to perform certain functions such as sanctioning breeches is grossly limited, we are not able to sanction people in a way that does justice to our mandate.
This is actually what informed our decision to go into a memorandum of understanding with Federal Consumer Protection Commission (FCPC)
“The reason is that this agency has the ability to prosecute and enforce, but we don’t have that in our Act. I am not comfortable that we now need to lean on another agency to be able to exercise such a profound mandate of economic regulation. It does not make sense that you are a regulator and you are not able to enforce. I believe there is a need for an amendment of the . shippers council Act to allow for ability to more forcefully exercise her mandate.
“Don’t forget that a number of Nigerian Shipping companies and terminal operators had taken the Council to court and we are still in court. What was the issue? We had queried the introduction of certain charges and tariffs which we felt were inconsistent with the guidelines we laid out.
“The parties were to be bound by the regulation we put in place but they decided to drag us to court. Truly, if you look at the Shippers Council Act, there is no provision that allows us to do that.
If we were to make this an Act of the National Assembly, nobody would challenge our ability to function because by then, we would be the law of the land.
“Secondly, funding is also a key challenge of the council, as at today, the main source of revenue for the agency is the 2/7% of the Port Development Levy which is pretty much a hard hoc arrangement that government decided to put shippers council alongside government agencies that have access to that source of revenue. If you look at it in real terms, the 2/7% percent of the port development levy doesn’t come to much.
“So, the ability for the Council to exercise it’s mandate is limited by the fact that our funding lines are not consistent with what we are supposed to do”
Hon Jime outlined how the lack of funding has limited activities of the Council, especially through the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) which has been unable to expand its scope beyond Lagos ports to other outer ports.
“The Port Standing Task Team, even though it is an inter-agency thing, the leadership of the team is the Nigerian Shippers Council, which means that we have a greater responsibility of making sure that PSTT function effectively.
“There is manpower shortage for the team as it is, we are only efficient in Apapa, don’t forget that we have other ports outside Lagos, Onne, Port Harcourt and Warri, but we are not able to extend the work of the PSTT to those other ports, that itself is not an effective way of delivering on our mandate.
With the resources and revenue string that we have, we are not able to put together more personnel, and logistics required in terms of Vehicles and Operational gadgets” he said
While speaking on the award bestowed on the Council by the truckers body; COMTUA, Hon Jime noted that without the role of the truckers, hinterland connectivity and evacuation of cargoes from the seaports would be almost impossible, given the fact that Nigeria is close to 90% dependent on road evacuation.
“As port regulator whose major mandate is to ensure efficiency of service delivery at our ports, there is no doubt in my mind that the partnership with COMTUA is a key determinant of how we can efficiently deliver on our mandate in the industry.
“The award is a recognition that the partnership is bearing fruit, so we need to continue in the same part, in order words the work of the PSTT must continue inna way that we meet the expectation of stakeholders.
“COMTUA honoring us with this award means that what shippers council is doing is assisting them to function effectively as well” he ssid