Economic regulator: Shippers Council set to aquire new powers

Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council

When the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Chief Adebayo Babatunde Sarumi dragged highly rated stakeholders in shipping and terminal operations to court, over bogus and frivolous charges about a decade ago, little did Nigerians know that the Ibadan High Chief was probably setting a true agenda, for the future roles of the Shippers Council.

But last month, as stakeholders settled in Kaduna’s 17 Hotel, along the Tafa Balewa Road, for a three-day brainstorming session, preparatory to evolving new powers for the Council to perform same function as now endorsed by President Goodluck Jonathan, those with hindsight could not but realized how much the country must have missed, for not compelling the Council to function as the nation’s ports regulator, earlier.

President Jonathan no doubt has now realized this, prompting him to assign the new task to the NSC. The group of intellectuals and stakeholders, comprising of seasoned legal drafters and core maritime players and stakeholders in the maritime industry have also realized; hence their recent gathering in Kaduna, for a three-day brainstorming session, all in a bid to ensure that not only would the recent Presidential declaration appointing the NSC an Economic Regulator be validated, but also, to ensure that the reinvigorated Shippers’ Council would be so dynamic, that it could wither the storm and challenges likely to unfold, in the near future.

And the assembly which indeed, consisted of representatives of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service (NSC), the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the Council for Regulations of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (CRFFN) and the NSC among others; all of them, in one accord did a wonderful job; exploring ways of creating the legal framework, needed to make the Council meet the aspirations of industry operators.

“We have not gathered here to make powers to enable Shippers’ Council to act as Shippers Council. We are here, working to make laws, to enable the Shippers Council to act an Economic Regulator” declared Ibrahim Kashim, a Director, in charge of Post-Privatization Monitoring Department, of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).

Specifically, the Shippers Council should now be sufficiently empowered to metamorphose from a toothless advisory Government platform, to a strong, confident, all-embracing regulatory body, able to both bark and bite, in the course of the performance of its statutory roles.

Unlike in the past where it begged for the release of information needed to make it functional, henceforth, request for such vital information must now be furnished within a reasonable number of days, even as those industry operators who deliberately supply falsehood, would be declared guilty of misrepresentation; and may be penalized like those who totally withheld required information. And such penalty may range between N500, 000 to N2, 000,000; while a defaulting company may even be sealed up, should there be any reasons to conclude that it has no intention of compliance, with the prescribed penalty.

But arguing further, he posited that unto whom much has been given would much be expected of the Council must henceforth, be guided by law. Subsequently, his paper, titled “A Compendium on Regulatory Regime in Port Concession Agreements and National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill”, stressed the need also to avoid leaving open flanks, in the course of achieving public goals, identifying five principles by which the Council must be guided.

“The five principles are as follows: transparency, proportionality, accountability consistency and targeting”, Alhaji Ibrahim Kashim posited, tasking the Council to focus at all times, the obligation of upholding the integrity of the Nigerian judicial system, as any vibrant regulatory regimes must satisfy the demands of the law, for it to command the fidelity of its citizens.

Speaking in the same manner, Legal Drafting Director, Office of the Attorney General, Alhaji Hamzat Tahir, who described an economic regular as “an intervention mechanism” while agreeing with Kashim, however stressed the need to ensure that every decision being made by the ‘Kaduna’ assembly, would totally comply with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Subsequently, the Council was thereafter charged to stretch its mandate as an economic regulator, to accommodate the task of preventing market failure, in consonance with the vision of President Goodluck Jonathan’s pronouncement. In other words, the Council must no longer be bogged down by the limitations of its earlier, porously crafted advisory powers; but be imbue with the capacity to authorize its staff or representatives to visit companies when necessary, even at short notices, if such gestures would assist in obtaining or confirming the accuracy of data and which, without, may hinder the effective execution of its new mandate.

The brainstorming group had one ma-or desire: the Shippers Council, in the light of its latest mandate, must transform into an organization capable of assisting Federal Government to mid-wife her dream of creating a harnessed and business friendly port; a port where extortion could be drastically reduced, and where payment for unrendered services, which has reportedly sent several operators into other countries’ ports, become a thing of the past.

Pressed for comment, the NSC Chief Executive Officer and Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello said he was glad that Government had taken the bull by the horn, in its bid to move the ports ndustry to new heights.

“The potential benefits of the ports have not been realized; and that underscores why there is need, for an economic regulator”, he stated, adding that government was aware of certain lapses in the nation’s participation in the international trade, particularly in respect of issues like comparatively longer dwelling time of vessels and cargo in ports; time-wasting complex clearing procedures; corruption and the absence of desired technological inputs; stating that these contributed immensely to denying Nigerian ports the benefits of efficiency or cost effectiveness.

He assured that his management would embark on new internal restructuring of its staff, to leverage on state of art technology, so as to achieve results, and lamenting that the ongoing gridlock at the Apapa Port, was to say the least, unsightly.

It would be recalled that the appointment of the NSC as Ports Economic Regulator was made in March 2014, pending when the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill is passed into law by the National Assembly. But then, Government knows that the NTC Bill may never be passed as soon as it desired.

If everything goes as planned, the NSC would not only be reinvigorated, the Council would also soon begin to function on mandates which is inclusive of such responsibility as: controlling monopolies, moral hazards; externalities as well as coordination and planning.

It would be recalled that the appointment of the NSC was made in March 2014 as the Ports Economic Regulator pending when the National Transport Commission (NTC) Bill is passed into law by the National Assembly.–International Trade Monitor