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Public Hearing: Ali’s Disposition Could Dampen War Against Corruption – NAGAFF

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..As Buhari, N’Assembly sets on collision course over 469 cars

The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has written to the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), expressing the body’s disenchantment with his recent reaction to its suspended ‘public hearing’ on two Customs officers, because the CGC letter was nothing short of “a seeming intimidation and coercion” on matters of corruption.

Col. Hameed Ibrahim  Ali Rtd CG CustomsCol. Ali, last week wrote to the NAGAFF a letter with Ref. No. NCS/ADM/MG7/018/S.126/C dated December 21st 2015, warning the NAGAFF against any further attempt to probe Customs officers on matters of corruption, because the body as a private organization lacks all powers to do so.

The NAGAFF reaction, already dispatched to Col. Ali, signed by the General Secretary, Fwdr. Arthur Igwilo while expressing a disappointment that the letter could dampen any honest desire to align with Ali, in Buhari’s war against corruption, also noted Ali’s official disposition totally failed to appreciate the  body’s honest intention.

“The belief of NAGAFF and other critical stakeholders is that Col. Hameed Ali will help to stem the tide of corruption in the Customs ports. This kind of the above reference letter involving a seeming intimidation and coercion on matters of corruption is most disheartening”, Igwilo indicated, stressing that “We suspect this letter may be inadvertently serving a purpose of shielding DC Saidu and Zarma from the alleged accusation of corrupt practices by the Freight agents which runs contrary to the message being passed consistently by the CGC as to his zero tolerance for corruption”, the freight forwarders posited.

“We are surprised at the misconception of the use of the word public hearing because it is used in a restrictive manner for members of NAGAFF.

“We are not a court or National Assembly or an arm of the Government for that matter and we are very much aware that we do not have the powers to compel any Government agent or agents to appear before us in that regard.  The context in which we used public hearing was because the plethora of complaints from our members, were so much that we decided to invite all of them.  The agents of the Government were advised to come on their own volition, to ensure fair hearing. We do have the powers to invite our members to hear their complaints over a particular person or persons.

“You would recall that NAGAFF and the CGC have been working to break the impunity, monopoly and corruption at the Jibiya border of Katsina state.  We can report that a lot of progress has been made in that axial of the North West border locations. We are also striving in the Lagos ports to stem corruption.  We sincerely hope that this whole episode is not a contrived incident to distract the anti-corruption drive of the NAGAFF that has keyed into the anti-corruption mantra of the present administration.

“We had expected that letters or correspondences from the Customs should be the tonic NAGAFF needed to support Mr. President, the CGC and to conclude the public hearing report for the use of the appropriate Government authority including ICPC.    However, to our surprise, the above referenced letter from Ag. ACG Sanusi A. U. was capable of dampening the morale and enthusiasm of any Nigerian or body with the intention of
supporting the CGC’s mandate”, the body said, noting that despite Ali’s orchestrated song against corruption, the menace had remained on the rise, even with Ali’s intervention in the port industry.

“The CGC should take note of the following facts that corruption in the ports is on the increase because it is mostly systemic.  Areas of concern should include but not limited to the non compliance attitude at the traders zone, improper Customs examination, value assessment questions that are usually frivolous, the inherent abuse of the T&T Headquarters and local alerts of the ASYCUDA Project Managers.

“Others are stoppage of released and exited containers at the Exit Gate, inherent abuse in the licensing and operations of Customs licenses, lack of transparency in revenue assessment matters and so many other vices that encourage corrupt practices.

“In view of all these contentious issues, we would expect the CGC to call for a town hall meeting with specific stakeholders to forge a way forward in his anti-corruption mandate.  We shall in due course make appropriate statement thereafter the committee report of the anti-corruption unit of NAGAFF might have concluded its assignment over the alleged corrupt officers therein mentioned, including the confirmation of the authenticity of this letter from the CGC”, the body concluded, even as the NAGAFF Scribe observed that by the way the CGC’s letter was ended, it had “no courtesy, considering the fact that this is a formal letter and not an internal memo.”

In the meantime, there are indications that the National Assembly is set to clash with President Muhammadu Buhari over the 469 cars which the federal lawmakers plan to buy.

Members of both chambers of the National Assembly, who spoke to our correspondents on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s opposition to the plan of the legislature to purchase cars for 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.

The National Assembly members had, in August, collected between N7m and N8m as car loans.

But the lawmakers said the 469 cars that they planned to buy would be used for oversight functions by members of the National Assembly.

The President had, in his maiden Presidential Media Chat on Wednesday, expressed reservation over the N47.5bn reportedly proposed for National Assembly members’ cars.

He had said he would hold a closed-door meeting with the National Assembly members because of the plan.

Urging Nigerians to take the issue to court, Buhari said if he could reject N400m bill for his personal cars as a President, the lawmakers should do the same thing.

He had said, “N47.5bn for vehicles for the National Assembly members? I think I will explore the possibility of that power. If I can turn down N400m for vehicles in the Presidency, I think we don’t need new cars; we can manage the old ones because of the economy.”

He noted that the lawmakers had collected N100bn as allowances for the purchase of cars.

It was not clear whether the President meant N4.7bn when he made reference to N47bn on Wednesday night.

But some senators, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity in Abuja on Thursday, faulted Buhari’s argument and defended the plan to purchase cars for National Assembly members.

They said the loans they collected were already being deducted from their monthly salaries.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, on his own, denied that the senators had planned to buy cars in the region quoted by the President.

Saraki said he would not allow the upper legislative chamber spend N4.7bn, N47bn or N50bn on official cars under his leadership.

He added that all the details of the 2016 budget would be made available for public debate and scrutiny.

The Senate President stated this via a tweet on his Twitter handle @bukolasaraki on Thursday.

He tweeted, “Not in my time will @NGRSenate spend N50bn or N47bn or N4.7bn on cars for Senators. Not in my time will Senate spend N47bn on cars. (The) details of (the) #2016Budget will be made available and open for public debate and scrutiny.’’

A principal officer in the Senate and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, who spoke with one of our correspondents, wondered why Buhari would think that spending one per cent of the nation’s N4tn recurrent expenditure to buy utility vehicles for a whole arm of government was too much.

The ranking Senator said, “I am sure the President is not expecting that we will use our personal vehicles, bought with loans, to carry out oversight functions within and outside Abuja or does he want us to rely on ministries, departments and agencies, under our supervision, to provide logistics whenever we want to carry out our official duties?

“It is a normal practice that members of the National Assembly go away with their official vehicles after four years, having paid the current value to government coffers. So where are we going to get our own official vehicles?

“We are looking forward to the meeting proposed by Mr. President and we will let him realise the need for us to have the project vehicles if we are really expected to carry out necessary oversight functions in line with the anti-corruption crusade of the current administration.”

An opposition Peoples Democratic Party senator from the South–East insisted that the project vehicles were legitimate rights of members of the National Assembly.

He argued that if ministers, permanent secretaries, directors and heads of Federal Government’s agencies were allocated official vehicles for project inspection, there was nothing wrong for the senators and Reps to have their own project vehicles.

The Senator vowed that members of the National Assembly would resist any attempt by the executive arm of government to deny them an opportunity to make use of official vehicles for their committee activities.

Also, the House of Representatives on Thursday expressed disbelief over the President’s comment to the effect that the National Assembly proposed to buy cars worth N47bn or “almost N50bn” this year.

It said it appeared that Buhari was “misinformed” about the car issue as N47bn or any figure in that region was about 40 per cent of the total annual budget of the entire National Assembly and its bureaucracy.

The National Assembly has a budget proposal of N115bn in 2016, down from N120bn in 2015 and N150bn from 2010 to 2014.

Investigations by The PUNCH showed that it was the Senate that had finalised its plans to buy cars worth about N4.7bn, while the House put its own on hold till after the passage of the 2016 budget.

Reacting on behalf of the House on Thursday, House Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, stated that the National Assembly did not contemplate buying cars with over 40 per cent of its annual budget.

He claimed that whatever cars that would be bought were for committee oversight duties and not as personal cars of the lawmakers.

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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