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Buhari rejects NASS peace deal on budget

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There were indications on Sunday that the National Assembly’s peace moves with the executive over the 2016 budget crisis has flopped. The PUNCH learnt that as part of the peace moves, the National Assembly had, on Saturday, reached out to the executive and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the document and then send a supplementary budget to the lawmakers.

It was gathered that the President did not accept the suggestion against the backdrop that the distortions in the budget discovered in the document transmitted by the National Assembly were too many.

A minister, who confided in The PUNCH, said both arms of government have been discussing the issue, but the President has been advised by members of his cabinet not to sign the appropriation bill.

“The National Assembly has initiated some peace moves. The lawmakers have suggested that the budget should be signed by the President before he will send a supplementary budget to cover the omissions, but he had turned down the proposal,” a competent source told one of our correspondents on Sunday. Also, a  competent Presidency source told The PUNCH on condition of anonymity on Sunday that with the level of distortions noticed in the document returned to the President, there was no way he could have been advised to append his signature to the budget.

The source stated, “I can confirm to you that the President has been advised not to sign the budget as it is. The initial plan was for him to sign it before going to China and thereafter present a supplementary budget to the National Assembly. “But as it is, with the level of distortions noticed, the President has been advised not to sign it at all.”

It was gathered that  Buhari on Sunday afternoon met behind closed doors with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, in continuation of his consultation on the budget. The meeting was held inside the President’s official residence in the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The meeting was held shortly before Buhari left Abuja for China on a one-week official visit.

It was learnt that the meeting was a follow-up to an earlier one held by the President with the leadership of the National Assembly. Presidential spokesmen, Mr. Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, were not available for comments on Sunday as they were on the President’s entourage to China.

Investigations by our correspondents at the National Assembly showed that the majority of the 109 senators and the 360 members of the House of Representatives had no knowledge of the details of the 2016 budget before they passed the document on March 23. It was learnt on Sunday that the lawmakers placed too much confidence on the judgment of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation, chaired by Senator Danjuma Goje and Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, to work out the details that they reportedly paid less attention to the work of the committee.

One senior legislative official, who followed the budget through, said, “Let the truth be told; the budget was passed without any information on the breakdown. “We all trusted the committee that due to the pressure to pass the budget, the members should work out the details while we passed the highlights.

“The news of inserting projects or removing some came as a surprise to many us.” It was learnt that in the case of the House of Representatives in particular, only the Chairman, Jibrin, and a few members of the Committee on Appropriation sat to work on the details of the budget without the knowledge of other members.

“Although members of the committee were asked to stay behind during the Easter break for the purpose of working on the details, they were not called to meetings to work on the details. “What we heard was that some consultants were hired by the chairman to work on the details, while he pleaded with members for understanding because of the exigencies of time,” another legislative official disclosed to The PUNCH. As the development unfolded, opposition party lawmakers, in a surprise move, backed Buhari’s objections to the budget, saying the President was right.

Speaking on their behalf, the Minority Leader of the House and member of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Leo Ogor, told The PUNCH that Buhari was free to reject the budget if it did not fall in line with his economic agenda.

Citing the alleged removal of the Lagos-Calabar rail line project from the budget, Ogor noted that the President must have made provision for it because he believed it would be a major boost to his economic agenda. Ogor stated that the Committees on Transport and all other committees supervising agencies whose projects were removed would have to explain whether the removal was done with their knowledge. However, Jibrin took to his Twitter handle to respond to allegations levelled against the National Assembly and specifically the Committee on Appropriation. In a series of tweets, he addressed some of the issues one after another.

In the tweets, he said, “The Lagos-Calabar rail (line project) was never included. How could NASS have removed what was not there? But the nation is being misled. “This is unfortunate as it is quite clear to all and sundry that #Budget2016 and all its headaches and controversies didn’t emanate from NASS.

“We will come up with a comprehensive position especially with respect to our observation of the budget and what we did to make it better.” He added, “What NASS did with the N54bn? We added N39.7bn to the Lagos-Kano Rail project. This will help complete the project once and for all.

“That N50bn be set aside as special bursary for students of tertiary institutions.” When contacted, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, on Sunday, said he was not aware of any meeting between the leadership of the National Assembly and the Presidency over the 2016 budget.

Ndume, who spoke in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said, “Our concern as Nigerians should be how to collectively move the nation forward instead of writing on speculations that could heat up the polity.” Attempts to get the Director, Information, Ministry of Budget and Planning, Mr Charles Dafe, to comment on steps being taken to resolve the grey areas in the budget were not successful.

The Senate on Sunday also denied allegations of padding levelled against the appropriation committees of the National Assembly. Senate spokesman, Senator Abdullahi Sabi, said in Abuja that the Constitution of Nigeria did not make the legislature a rubber stamp.

He said, “I can say authoritatively that we did not pad the budget at all. I reject that in its entirety. We appropriated in line with what we believe the issues are and we did so in consultation with the Ministries, Departments and Agencies.” He added that the National Assembly, in reality, helped the executive to pass a badly written budget, saying having done its job within the law, the lawmakers expected the executive to follow the constitutional process.

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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