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NSC: Driving port efficiency through fight against corruption

NSC: Driving port efficiency through fight against corruption

As the ports’ economic regulator, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the nation’s seaport operates in an efficient and transparent manner.

First, the NSC in its oversight functions enthrones transparency in the port business by regulating the tariff structure of shipping companies, terminal operators, and other service providers in order to avoid illegal and arbitrary charges at the port.

This is why it has become mandatory that before new charges are introduced by any service provider, such a company must get the approval of the NSC.

The council also ensures that standard cargo handling equipment is used to discharge cargo in the port to avoid unnecessary delays for cargo owners. To achieve this, it carries out equipment audits of port terminals as well as bonded warehouses, and this has helped to put service providers on their toes.

As a result, the officials of the Council visit terminal operators to ensure they deploy modern equipment in the discharging and loading of vessels and positioning containers for examination by Customs officers in line with international best practices.

In addition, the Council in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Transportation launched the Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM), which enabled the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the port and the creation of the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) responsible for the implementation of NPPM.

PSTT started by reducing the rate of un-receipted payments associated with vessel clearance at the port through the introduction of mandatory joint boarding of vessels and joint cargo inspection by all the government agencies at the port.

“Joint boarding of vessels and joint cargo clearance are happening in Nigerian port and they are reducing delays in the vessel as well as cargo clearance at the nation’s seaport, said Soji Apampa, the chief executive officer of the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN).

Joint board policy has saved vessel captains $20,000 per visit to Nigerian port, an amount which was being spent before now. This amount can translate to hundreds of millions of dollars lost to corruption in the past when multiplied by the thousands of ships that visit Nigerian Ports annually.

Moses Fadipe, the national coordinator of the PSTT, in charge of implementing the provisions of the manual, said the new policy has drastically reduced the time it takes to move a ship from anchorage to berth.

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He said it now takes an average of 90 minutes to board a vessel, down from 5 hours in the past; thereby reducing the opportunity for corrupt demands in terms of cash and other gift items received on-boarded vessels by government officials.

According to him, this development has improved Nigeria’s reputation internationally as the country won an award in Basel, Switzerland for fighting corruption in 2022.

He said it has helped to increase the number of containers examined at port terminals from about 120 containers to over 250 containers a day in some terminals.

Vivek Menon, associate director of MACN, said the founding of the Port Standard Task Team by the Presidency in collaboration with NSC to enforce SOP has improved transparency, and accountability and ensured compliance.

“The creation of the Anti-Corruption Help Desk provides round-the-clock support for vessel clearance at ports in Nigeria, which has reduced the instances of corruption, especially during vessel clearance,” he added.

Apampa confirmed that the work of PSTT in port reform is gaining ground within and outside Nigeria as many countries have indicated an interest in coming to Nigeria to learn from the procedure adopted by PSTT in fighting corruption in the port.

Data obtained by BusinessDay shows that joint boarding of vessels has made cases of un-receipted demands for bribes drop from about 266 cases in 2019, to 128 in 2020, dropped further to 84 cases in 2021, and fell further to about 50 cases in 2022.

To deal with the challenges associated with cargo evacuation from the port, the PSTT started ‘Operation Clear the Port Corridor’ which helped to reduce the delays experienced when cargo leaves the port.

For more efficiency at the ports, the NSC encourages automation of services by all stakeholders, especially the service providers in order to reduce the delay and corrupt practices associated with personal contact.

Now, all shipping companies and terminal operators have adopted automation by ensuring that a greater part of their cargo-clearing processes such as payments and invoicing is done electronically.

Though the strategies put in place by the port economic regulator has started yielding result, government agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, also need to adopt automated cargo-clearing processes to cut down costs for the consignee.