• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Eliminating duplication in Nigerian Shipping, Port Economic Regulatory bill

Maritime Milestones: Mapping Nigeria’s Marine Market

At a time when the Federal Government is looking for ways to reduce the cost of governance by implementing the Oronsaye Report, which proposes the merging of government agencies with visible overlapping functions, some port industry stakeholders are pushing for the passage of the Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill.

The Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill in its present form contradicts the recommendations of the Oronsaye Report and the call by Nigerians to reduce the cost of governance.

Also, the push for the enactment of the bill has resulted in a cold war in Nigeria’s maritime sector today as its regulators jostle for supremacy which may end up undermining trade facilitation and resulting in an overregulated business environment.

Read also: Why Nigerian seafarers fail to secure jobs onboard foreign ships

This is why maritime industry stakeholders have called on the Federal Government to fully implement the Oronsaye report in the port sector.

They believed that the bill lacked clarity in addressing its core purpose and how it would add value to port operations.

The controversies
Pundits believe that the Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill would create a new government agency whose functions and jurisdiction would overlap with other agencies in the maritime sector.

For instance, a thorough examination of the bill clearly shows that the powers and functions of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) would be duplicated.

Functions such as shipping regulation, issuance of certificates, licenses, fees, charges, and levies that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the NIMASA, would also reside with the new agency. The bill has failed to indicate how this would be remedied.

NIMASA is not alone as other agencies under the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy are also demanding revisiting of the existing approach of operation guiding the agencies over the years.

For example, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), also highlighted the confusion that may ensue over the combination of ‘ports and shipping’ in a new regulatory agency.

This was why the NPA demanded proper phrasing of the roles of the agencies to avoid encroachment. It also emphasised the need for clarity of functions of the agency, which would be named the ‘Nigeria Port Economic Regulatory Agency,’ to avoid duplicating the functions of others in the sector.

In addition, the NPA, as landlord, is saddled with granting concessions to the concessionaire, under the statutory regulation and monitoring of the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, meaning that the review of concessions, and indeed collection of all or part of the concession fees as in Section 28 of the bill cannot be the business of the proposed new Ports Economic Regulator.

A position paper presented by the NPA questioned the intent and importance of the Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill.

“It therefore must be driven by the sector policy arm of the executive – the Federal Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy. The function of parliament here is to facilitate seamless implementation of established policy by enacting the intent of the operators,” the paper stated.

Read also: Shipping volume via Red Sea slumps 55% in quarter one IMF

Stakeholders speak

Temple Isomah, president of the Nigerian Maritime Renaissance Network (NMRN), said his group watched with discomfort as the hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Shipping Services and Related Matters, deviated from the achievement of the presidential policy on reduction of the cost of governance to overloading a new agency emerging from the Bill with functions of other agencies.

“The Bill will give rise to a mega-agency that will be given the powers to oversight the operations of other agencies in the sector. This situation will engender dirty competition and politicking that will undermine the growth of the industry.

“The Bill will produce a Port Economic Regulator that would be more powerful than even the Federal Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy. Similar to a state oil company that is richer and stronger than its mother ministry and industry regulator. This should be avoided,” he said.

The Bill, he said, should strike a balance between reforms and creating a level playing field that ensures competitiveness that will unlock substantial opportunities for the country.

He enjoined the National Assembly to explore further dialogue among agencies in the industry to provide clearer guidance on the appropriate articulation of their roles which would be embedded in the Bill before its passage.

Also speaking, Lucky Amiwero, president of the National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), said the Bill will fuel conflict and create obstacles to implementation.

He said the existing legislation should not be duplicated or overridden by provision.

“The Bill contains clauses that conflict with other agencies especially NPA by usurping the powers of licensing of port service and facilities,” he said.

Conflicting interests

Following the port reforms programme and subsequent concession of the ports, there was consensus among stakeholders on the need to establish an economic regulator for the ports to provide a competitive and conducive environment for commercial activities to thrive.

Consequently, various versions of a bill to create an agency to take up this role were developed and presented for legislative action in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th National Assemblies. However, none yielded the desired outcome due to conflict of interests and narrow articulation.

In response, the federal government in 2014 signed an Executive Order that made the Nigerian Shippers’ Council an interim economic regulator for the ports pending the enactment of an Act.

Now, the process of enacting an appropriate law to streamline the operational framework for the industry, particularly in port management, has become an exercise to overload the NSC with roles and powers well beyond the original purpose of an economic regulator.

Close watchers are of the view that rather than create confusion with the new bill, perhaps the status quo should be allowed to remain, while consultations continue to avoid the fate of previous versions of the bill, which failed to see the light of the day.

The House of Representatives Committee on Shipping Services and Related Matters recently said the Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill will curb arbitrary charges and other illegality of operators in the nation’s maritime industry when passed into law.

However, experts said the House needed to trash the bill as it would result in agency rivalry and confusion.

Speaking with newsmen after a Public Hearing on the repeal of the Nigerian Shippers Council Act, Abdussamad Dasuki, chairman of the Committee, said the Committee is still collating memoranda from various stakeholders on the bill before going ahead to present the report before the House of Representatives for third reading.

According to Dasuki, the bill seeks to repeal a law preventing the NSC from enforcing a presidential directive concerning economic regulation of the ports.

“The nation’s maritime industry is overdue for this, and we will see to its implementation,” he said.

Read also: 1,382 shipping containers lost at sea annually — Report

The Nigerian Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill 2023, with, Tajudeen Abass, speaker of the House of Representatives as lead sponsor, passed its second reading in March 2024.

Abdussamad Dasuki, one of the bill’s sponsors and chairman of the House Committee on Shipping Services and Related Matters, said the Nigerian Shippers’ Council was made the Port Economic Regulator in 2015 by the federal government, a status that needs formalising through legislation.

“The federal government noted that the objective of the regulation is to create an effective regulatory regime for the Nigerian ports after the concession of the ports. Port does not mean the Nigerian Ports Authority alone. It also means all the stakeholders in the ports, for the control of tariffs, rates, charges and other related economic services” Dasuki said on Wednesday 14th February 2024, while presenting the Bill to the House of Representatives.

“Specifically, the shippers’ council’s gazette is being implemented today as a regulation and not as an Act. The Regulations provided that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council shall perform the role of interim Port Economic Regulator with the administrative backing of the federal government.

Repealing the existing Shippers’ Council Act is to empower it to discharge its mandate as the Port Economic Regulator while the collation of memoranda from various stakeholders is ongoing before the House of Representatives for Third Reading,” he added.