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IMF tells Nigeria to increase VAT, remove oil subsidy

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… As MTN acquires Visafone; and fires 2,000 workers

The Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Ms. Christine Lagarde, on Wednesday painted a grim picture of the Nigerian economy, warning that the country faces hard choices going forward. She spoke strongly about the need to remove oil subsidy, which she said is hard to defend and the imperative for the country to increase the rate of Value Added Tax (VAT).

Lagarde, who spoke when she led a team of IMF officials on a courtesy visit to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the implication of the hard choices for the country meant that hard decisions will need to be taken on revenue, expenditure, debt, and investment for Nigeria to emerge from the impending economic doldrums.

The IMF boss predicted that oil prices, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, will likely remain low for quite a long time The IMF chief, who entitled her speech – “Nigeria—Act with Resolve, Build Resilience, and Exercise Restraint,” kept Saraki and other members of the Senate leadership spellbound for about one hour. 

She said, “My first visit to Africa as IMF Managing Director was in late 2011, and the first country on my itinerary was Nigeria. At that time, Nigeria was emerging from the 2008-09 commodity price collapse and the banking crisis that followed.

“Since that visit, Nigeria has been acknowledged as the largest economy in Africa—with a maturing political system.

“We saw a peaceful general election last year in which, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, there was a democratic transition between two civilian governments. It was a strong sign of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy, to a new Nigeria.

“At the same time, the external environment has changed. Oil prices have fallen sharply, global financial conditions have tightened, growth in emerging and developing economies has slowed and geopolitical tensions have increased.

“All this has come at a time when Nigeria is facing an urgent need to address a massive infrastructure deficit and high levels of poverty and inequality.

“So, Nigeria faces some tough choices going forward. Nigerians, however, are well known for their resilience and strong belief in their ability to improve their nation and lead others by example.

“I firmly believe that Nigeria will rise to the challenge and make the decisions that will propel the country to greater prosperity.”

In the meantime, feelers emerged on Wednesday that Visafone was winding down operations and had sacked more than 83 per cent of its workers as part of its acquisition by the MTN Nigeria.

Our correspondent gathered that over 2,000 employees were disengaged with effect from January 5, 2016, and were paid three months’ salaries as severance package.

The only categories of employees said to be left were those in the personnel and transmission departments.

One of the affected workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the sacking came as a surprise to many of them.

“We learnt that the management would downsize, but we were told that that would be later in 2016. It is, however, surprising that they are sending majority of us away so early in the year. Though they paid three months’ severance benefits, but should it be this way?

“Some of us have put in five to 10 years of our lives in keeping the business going, but see what we are getting now. It is well.”

A senior management employee at Visafone confirmed the sacking, but was quick to refer media enquiries to MTN because he was not authorised to speak on the deal.

When contacted, MTN Nigeria neither denied nor confirmed the deal, but said the management was already working on a statement that would be made available to journalists later in the day or today (Thursday).

As of the time of filing this report, our correspondent had yet to obtain the statement.

Reliable sources stated that the MTN would have completed the acquisition of Visafone, the only surviving Code Division Multiple Access operator in the country, before the end of 2015, but for the N1.04tn fine slammed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Our correspondent gathered that the challenges in the nation’s economy had also frustrated plans by the MTN to absorb at least 50 per cent of the sacked Visafone workers and because “it wants to reduce its exposure in Nigeria.”

The Citizen with additional report from Punch

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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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ADEBAYO SARUMI: Doyen of Maritime Industry Marks 80th Anniversary, Saturday 

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