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Stakeholders assess NSC

 Stakeholders in the maritime industry believe that the appointment of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council as an economic regulator has brought positive changes in the sector. The president of Nigeria Ship Owners Association (NISA), Mr. Aminu Umar, said that there had been many positive changes since the federal government appointed the NSC as the ports regulator about a year or two ago. Umar said that the NSC has been involved in very positive dialogues with stakeholders in the industry, stressing that many stakeholders have seen them talk about how to reduce the cost of clearing cargoes at the port and reduce cost of demurrage accrued over time because of delay at the port. According to him, “In this area, I think the NSC is doing a lot. Another major thing they are doing is the enlightenment programmes through which they educate a lot of shippers on their right and what they stand to bene¿ t in the event of conÀ icts between the parties involved. So, I think they are really doing well in their new role.” The president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr Eugene Nweke, posited that what the NSC had done in the last one year was to break the barriers by identifying the service providers in the sector that required attention. Nweke said that the Executive Secretary of the NSC, Hassan Bello, had proferred solutions to most of the challenges by creating a standard pricing system, noting that this was articulated within one year. He said, “They have also sustained enlightenment through advocacy, and today, nobody will say that he is not aware of the NSC and its new regulatory roles. I think they have covered a large aspect of this. Within this period, the NSC has gone through the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly to get a gazette of this function on the existing Act. This means that any doubting Thomas, claiming that they do not have legitimate powers for regulation, must be making a mistake. “Again, the NSC stated that certain practices in the industry that are inimical to the growth of the port industry and international trade be abolished, but they were challenged in court, not just in a small court, but a High Court, followed by in the Appeal Court. These are some of the things we want to see NSC do, by having these cases decided in court and setting a precedent for the operators. So, they are on track. “Now, using the volume of complaints received since it was made a regulator, there have been so many complaints and letters before them and they give them attention on their merit. If you find a shipowner who has one or two ships, who finds solace in the Council’s intervention, you will appreciate the work of the Council. How do you assess the complaint unit? It is response time. No complaint goes to that unit that does not receive attention the same day.” On enforcement, Nweke said that one must not forget that the shipping and port industry was full of cabals, who he alleged had tried to stop the NSC in enforcing its duties through various means, “including bribery if possible.” He added that the Council had, however, remained steadfast in its roles. “So, by and large, the NSC in the last two years has proven that it is ready to work, even as a child of necessity. I hope you know that enormous resources have been channelled towards capacity building in the NSC to reposition the members of staff to withstand the challenges ahead. And for any agency to have made this kind of impact, is either that they have been in the port system or that they understand the port system. That is what is going on well for them,” he said. On how the NSC had excelled on the compliance level under the regulatory framework, he said that there is what is known as ‘system breakdown’, which has been entrenched over time. “It has not broken down because the building has fallen but because of the level of corrupt practices among the operators. If you appreciate this, you will further understand that some of these things were done through legal a agreement or a memorandum of understanding (MoUs), signed by the government through its agencies. In this case, the NSC has to embark on due consultations and dialogues, which are paying off. So, we expect that with their persuasive approach, in another six months, we shall expect reasonable changes. Some of these hide-and-seek games will soon stop. But one thing very clear is that collecting charges for services not rendered is being avoided by the service providers because the NSC is working. “On enforcement, remember that this is mostly done by the legal department because it is usually legal issues. They have to use the power of coercion to arrest and detain culprits. They need to get this from the government and enforce the circular to the letter. But they need to take things one at a time to avoid having many fists in one mouth,” he said. Most stakeholders’ assessment of the NSC as the port economic regulator under one and half year on its impact in the sector shows that it is breaking the barrier of prejudice for acceptance, with the possibility of ultimately achieving compliance. So far, the stakeholders and a section of the media have concluded that the NSC is working but requires a more aggressive positioning mix to cover its scope of regulatory functions, performance benchmarks, review of methods and enforcement, as well as close monitoring of all its regulatory duties. They said the NSC should not be shy to partner the private sector, or outsource duties where necessary for enhanced impact

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