….Council to Wield Big Stick On Non-compliant Freight Forwarders
By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) have expressed dissatisfaction at the poor level of compliance with the payment of the Practitioners Operations Fee (POF) an Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) approved by the Federal Government to be paid by freight forwarders.
The CRFFN has said that since the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the POF collection in 2022, only 400,000 Bill of Laden have paid the POF, while majority of freight forwarders were shortchanging the government.
Speaking on Monday at a 2-Day Townhall Meeting with Terminal Operators with the theme: “POF Enforcement, Compliance, The Journey So Far” held at Rockview Hotel in Apapa Lagos, Acting Registrar of CRFFN, Mrs Chinyere Uromta said that the Council 2021 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Terminal Operators to confirm payment of POF before releasing cargoes.
She however lamented that the revenue so far collected is a far cry from the Federal Government’s expectation.
Uromta also revealed that the CRFFN is currently strategizing with other government agencies including the Nigeria Customs Service on working out how to ensure full compliance with POF collection.
According to her, the Governing Board of CRFFN’s discussion with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has reached 80% to ensure that terminals at the airports such as NAHCO and SAHCOL collect the POF on behalf of the CRFFN.
She said “Following the approval by FEC, the Federal Ministry of Transportation through the Minister of Transportation, the Permanent Secretary held a meeting with Terminal Operators in 2021, an agreement was reached, in that meeting there was an instruction that we should enforce payment.
“The revenue started trickling in since 2021, but not as much as the Council had expected.
So, what we have now is below the federal government expectations. In order to know why we are not moving forward, this is why we called this meeting”
The CRFFN Boss appreciated the terminal operators for agreeing to corporate with CRFFN on the POF collection, even as she pointed out that many terminal operators are yet to integrate with the Council to ensure compliance.
According to her, the benefits of the POF collection is enormous, and it is to develop the freight forwarding sector and to educate freight forwarders up to global standards.
Speaking also, CRFFN Chairman of Committee on Monitoring, Enforcement and Compliance, Chief Timothy Awogbemi stressed the need for more terminal operators to come onboard and integrate their system with the CRFFN to ensure enforcement of POF.
According to him, some terminals are corporating well with CRFFN at 100%, some are on 10%, while some do not even want to corporate at all.
“What we are saying is that where we are now is not good for us, this is a common goal, to achieve it,we need integration, and we need to work together.
“The little money we are collecting is to train the freight forwarders and make them grow academically and in every side. Without the freight forwarders, there would be no terminal operators” he said
Chairperson of Seaports Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STOAN) Princess Vicky Haastrup who was represented by the Secretary of the association, Barrister Boye Uzamot urged terminal operators present at the meeting to voice out their challenges in complying with the collection.
According to her “The issue of compliance is not negotiable or whether you wish to comply or not, the fact is that all of us must comply as terminal operators,we already have Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government”
On his part, Chairman of CRFFN Committee on Fund Raising, Chief Increase Uche cautioned terminal operators and freight forwarders that POF has come to stay at Nigerian ports.
While speaking on the legal perspective of the fee in accordance with CRFFN Act No.16 2007, he likened the collection of POF to other statutory levies being collected at the port including the NPA 7% port surcharge, NIMASA’s surcharges among others.
One of the enforcement officer of CRFFN on POF collection, Mr. Lawal M.R lamented the high level of malpractice by freight forwarders in avoiding payment of POF.
According to him, many freight forwarders have more than one container on their Bill of Laden but they usually pay for just one container.
He added that, releasing officers at the various terminals have been directed not to take receipt of POF payment from freight forwarders as confirmation, he said many of the Practitioners are falsifying the receipt.
Lawal also revealed that the CRFFN is currently working with law enforcement agencies to penalize freight forwarders who have shortchanged government in POF payment.
“We agreed that the receipt from the freight forwarders is not confirmation of payment of POS.
The terminal operators would need to check the portal to confirm the payment through account access by releasing officers.
“80percent of terminal operators collaborating with CRFFN on the POF collection are doing so manually which is through Account Access, without full integration.
“There is an example that we are already in touch with the law enforcement agencies and we would get to the end of it.
We have situations whereby some freight forwarders have 20 containers but they only pay one.
“This money is not coming to CRFFN, it is going to the Federal Government, and if we have issues of freight forwarders shortchanging the government, we have no option than to engage the law enforcement agencies to get the money back.
In the process of getting the . money back, we would also have to engage you as our stakeholders.
“We have terminals in Lagos here that, for a whole month, they cleared only five Bill of Laden, there are some doing 1,000 in a month that are now dropped to 80 Bill of Laden in a month, there must be supervision of the releasing officers on this issue
“Last month we had a case with a freight forwarder which we have reported to the police and they would take it up.
He had 300 Bill of Laden of underpayment, he started doing this since 16th of February, if we want to look at the minimum amount payment, it is N300,000 but he paid N21,000
All these were done because the releasing officers do not pay attention to what is being paid.
“The Ministry of Transportation team would be coming along with CRFFN team to individual terminals to see what their positions are and inspect their level of compliance.
“Before then, each terminal should compile, from July 2022 till date the number of Bill of Laden that they have cleared so that they can compare notes with CRFFN” he said
Lawal said the Ministry of Transportation team would be moving round, visiting the Terminals within the month of April 2023.
Moving forward, part of the resolution of the meeting was that CRFFN has agreed to assign it’s staff to all terminal operators offices and bonded terminals to assist in confirming payment of POF collection.