A Reformed Ports System Will Earn Nigeria More Revenue Than Oil — Bello
The Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Shipper’s Council (NSC). Mr. Hassan Bello, was in Enugu State recently, where he told KODILINYE OBIAGWU, the South East Bureau Chief, that the shipping business could surpass oil and gas in term of revenue generation if revenue leakages could be plugged.
Can you place your recent visit to Enugu State within the context of the maritime activity of the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC)?
We went to Enugu to look at possibilities of investment, especially in the transport infrastructure. The Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) advises the Federal Government on the adequacy or otherwise of transport infrastructure. We are also advisers to the Government on investment. Looking at the national economy holistically, we notice a huge gap in infrastructure, especially in the transport industry. We are talking about modern infrastructure that will enhance transportation.
In Enugu State we are talking about a truck transit park, which we think is an easily deliverable infrastructure. It is an off the road facility. It is a modern facility, not only where trucks and trailers can park, but also private cars. This off the road facility comes with the availability of mechanics, good hotels, restaurants and other franchise. And with the facility, the idea of indiscriminately parking vehicles on the highways as we have now will be done away with. It is primitive for us to be parking on the shoulder of the highway. When this facility is introduced, it will bring sanity to our roads. It means that those drivers, on whose shoulder that the transport economy rests, will be humanised as they will be able to rest, sleep and not worry about the safety of their trucks. Also, the transport owners will be able to track the vehicles, the cargo and their movement. For Enugu State, it will be a major source of revenue generation and employment. We have promoted this in Kaduna State, and we are doing so in Kogi and some other states.
If NSC is not investing in this venture, what will be your role and the implication of your involvement?
We are the promoters of the venture. Just as we did in the Inland Container Port, we are promoters of transport infrastructure and that is why we think we should modernise our way of doing things. It will add value and quality. Imagine where we have a truck park in Obollo Affor, it means you will find sanity, revenue, employment and even a cluster of industries supporting that venture. This is our role and in this case, we have seen the direction, which Enugu State government is going and we have identified with it. We have studied the economic direction of the state governor and this is part of our identification with that.
What are the incentives available to the investors?
Essentially, this is a profitable venture and that is the primary incentive for the public and private investors. The NSC constituted a public private partnership department to look at the structure and the issues arising therefrom. There is the question of viability and execution and of course how the venture will add value to the economy of the state, the local council and even the Federal Government. In the meantime we consider the venture profitable and we are going to consult stakeholders, technical regulators like the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the investors themselves. We are already talking with some investors as far as the Enugu truck park is concerned and many people have shown interest and that is why we think the state government should take the lead and provide a conduceive environment or investment.
What is the thinking behind this new regime?
The New Port Order is just the materialisation of the mandate of the Nigeria Shippers Council. That mandate is to bring innovation in port operations; it is to provide the nexus between port operations and the economy; it is to stop the leakages, hemorrhages and pilferages in the ports. It is to see that the ports are efficient, competitive, and see that there is ease of doing business and that the cost of doing business in Nigerian ports is reduced drastically. It is also to ensure that we do things according to what obtains internationally and in other jurisdictions. We don’t want to have a chaotic port system. We want to create and have a decent and efficient port; we want our ports to be the preferred destination for importers.
So in your estimation, what is the economic value of the new port order, in terms of revenue?
The contribution of transport or shipping to the GDP, if properly analysed will rival or even surpass that of oil and gas. The maritime industry is the alternative to oil and gas. Even now. The revenue we get from the port system is what we see from the Customs contribution to the revenue of the government. We have not gone halfway into the reforms. If we go through the reforms, we will just be like other countries.
Your role as a regulator in the shipping sector has attracted some criticism from people who think that as a player, you are likely to be biased. Do you agree? All over the world, the shipper’s councils are a countervailing force. They were a creation of the World Bank. There was disequilibrium in the shipping industry. The carrier, who has the ship; the charterer of the ship; the banks and the insurance companies are well organised and financially viable. But the small shipper is not and so, you can’t have equality within the ports and if you don’t have, then there is a deficit and then you will not have shipping. The NSC is better placed to protect the shippers and other parties in the industry and that is the beauty of it. While you are a regulator, you protect all the parties; a regulator is someone who is unbiased, like a referee, an umpire, you cannot afford to be biased.
How do you intend to implement the cargo tracking notes regime, which some importers fear will add to the cost of business?
We want to introduce the cargo tracking notes, which is an instrument of trade facilitation. It is done everywhere in the world, but then I agree that we have to have the buy-in of the stakeholders in order to implement it. We have been to all the stakeholders. We have been to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), NACCIMA, master mariners, freight forwarders, the Customs, and every time we meet them, we take note of their observations and their reflections have only further enriched the cargo tracking notes. We share the concerns of the importers, who fear that this will add to the cost of business and we have convinced them otherwise.
Does the tracking notes have the capacity to generate revenue?
Of course it has. The cargo tracking notes is a web system. It offers us the information in a reasonable time, of a cargo from the port of loading before the ship arrives. The people who are to receive the cargo at our ports already know what is coming. The Customs, NPA, shipping companies are all aware. So they have prepared the bills. Most important of all, 80 per cent of the importers don’t declare the real value of the cargo they are bringing in. It is more common with car importers, who falsify the date of manufacture of the cars they are bringing in to evade proper billing. Sometimes, the shippers under-declare the tonnage of the ship and we lose revenue. But with the cargo tracking notes, it is not possible anymore to under declare or evade payment of proper duties. We are blocking leakages and increasing revenue. There is no hiding place from cargo tracking. The tracking notes also help in security surveillance because we know everything that a ship is carrying. You can’t bring in arms and declare it as furniture. The cargo tracking notes is a very important instrument and we are still consulting to see the best way to make it a near perfect instrument.