• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

WHARF LANDING FEE: Enabled by Law

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CLIFF ALOZIE-ERONDU

The idea of having some constitutional fundamental human right to good roads which is not enforceable by law will soon be a thing of the past as Lagos State Government commences the collection of wharf landing fees. The need arose due to the nightmare which importers and port users go through everyday before taking delivery of there consignments.
The poor state of the roads has reduced the number of goods leaving the ports, delayed ship berth, wasted importers hard earned money and destroyed several trucks with their consignments. But with the wharf landing fees, stakeholders and operators are expected to have a new lease of life, as they will henceforth hold Lagos Government accountable for the maintenance of roads leading to the ports.
The Wharf Landing Bill was recently passed into law by the Lagos State House of Assembly, to enable the state raise substantial revenue to tackle the problem of poor road infrastructure, which is hampering port activities. The legislation however exempts goods belonging to government including federal, foreign, state and local governments of any state and their agencies. According to the State law, the tax is derived from the various taxes, fiscal and regulatory authorities in the country which recognise and recommend the need for the payment of the fees. Moreover, the wharf landing fee provides for the payment of some certain percentage of charges on any goods that passes through any local government area or council development area in Lagos.

Read Also: Apapa-Wharf Road: Dangote reassures on project completion in July

With the law in place, every consignment leaving Apapa and Tin Can Island Port are to attract the sum of N1,000 for 40-footer container, N500 for 20-footer container and N300 for cars, which is to be collected by the shipping companies on behalf of the State Government.

Responding, the chief executive officer of Admiralty Resources, Emeka Akabuogu, believe that although it is difficult for the law court to enforce the fundamental human right of good roads, infrastructure and health, as enshrined in the constitution, but with the wharf landing fee, the State Government is inadvertently saying that stakeholders should blame them if the roads are not taken care of. He observed that if the duty of care of an importer is breached by Lagos State by not taking care of the roads which fall under the jurisdiction of the wharf landing fee, the importer can claim damages against the government. Akabuogu further explained that whether or not the wharf landing fee is imposed according to the law is entirely a different issue, stressing that currently it has become a law and it is left for anybody to challenge it in the law court. But according to him one thing is sure Lagos State Government has put a law in place in which the people can hold them accountable.
For the chairman, Freight Forwarders’ Regulatory Council, (FFRC) Tony Nwabunike, wharf landing fee is not necessary because the cost of clearing goods at the port is already higher than any other country in the world. He explained that Lagos State has no right to introduce any other fee since all the levies on imported goods are being collected by various agencies on behalf of the Federal Government. Nwabunike pointed out that if other states start collecting wharf landing fee as Lagos intend to do, cargo owners will eventually stop bringing in more consignments due to the prevailing high cost of importation in the country.
Wharf landing fee it was gathered was introduced in the country in 2001, but was dropped due to stiff resistance from the shipping community due to the purported negative implication it will bring to the economy.
Similarly on his part, the managing director of Eyis Resources Limited, Lucky Amiwero, said the Act No 21 of 1998 and the proposed amendment of Part (iii) for the inclusion of wharf landing fees to the original act by the State Government is illegal because only the National Assembly had such powers. He maintained that the provision made by 1999 constitution section 4 (part 1) item 36, clearly placed the ports under exclusive list, stressing that Decree 38 of 1999 which contains the Port Act did not include anything like wharf landing fee.
Amiwero insisted that the functions of the Local Government is clearly stipulated and enshrined in the section 7 of the same constitution, where port related matters are not included. Local Government he explained could interfere in port related matters only if the National Assembly confers such right on it, regretting that instead of reducing numerous levies so as to make Nigerian ports users-friendly within the sub-region the cost is rather going up. The freight forwarder insisted that introducing additional fee would certainly inflict more hardship to the Nigerian public
For the vice chairman, Port Consultative Council (PCC), Kunle Folarin, said the wharf landing fee is already a law, but what stakeholders should be concerned now is the effective utilisation of the fund, so that it will not become like the seven percent Port Development Levy. According to him, what people are concerned is the cost of the tax, but if the State Government will use it to fix the roads, and reduce waiting time of vessels in the country’s territorial waters, as well as cargo damages, it will be an advantage to the importers and port users.

However, the director-general, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS), Ify Akerele, said although wharf landing fee has become a law in Lagos, what happens if other states like Delta, Port Harcourt and Calabar tow the same line. She pointed out that a committee has been set up to look into wharf landing fee by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, which is already in a deadlock, expressing fears whether Lagos State is planning to takeover the administration of the port, which belongs to the Federal Government.
Akerele explained that the stakeholders are looking forward to seeing Apapa repaired, but suggesting that it would have been better if Lagos State reached an agreement with the Federal Government to fix the road so that they would be reimbursed later.
Also, a senior customs officer who spoke with our reporter saw it as a double taxation on the part of the importers, stressing that the consignees are already over charged at the ports. Importers she said are already paying about 12 different levies at the port, so the fee is not necessary, pointing out that government should be alive to their responsibilities rather than over-burdening the importers.
According to the law, anybody in possession of any item or consignment in respect of which wharf landing fee is chargeable whether he is the owner, shipper, transporters or agent shall be liable to pay the landing bill. However, to prevent multiple taxing and multiplicity of centres, the law provides that the state government shall establish or designate any authority as the collecting authority for the purpose of collecting the wharf landing fee on behalf of all local governments and council development areas in the state, meaning that it shall be only one payment.
The law from reports empowers the commissioner for finance to establish a wharf landing fees fund which shall be lodged at designated banks and which at the end of every three months will be determined by the commissioner for finance on amount to be shared by each local government. This being the case, disbursement of the pool to the councils shall not take place until the cost of collection has been deducted as arranged by the state government and the collecting authority.
Section four of the law also empowers the agents to stop any vehicle for the purpose of determining whether the goods being conveyed fall under those that should pay the wharf landing fee and upon inspection are empowered to collect the fees for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the laws.
Governor Babatunde Fashola justified the imposition of fee saying it became imperative because it is the local governments that bear the burden of the impact of maritime activities, and would aid the maintenance of the roads that the heavy duty trucks conveying goods out of the wharfs pass through.