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Senate tells Buhari: “We won’t revisit Lagos – Calabar rail project”, as FG defends Amaechi

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In what appears to be a rebuttal to the National Assembly’s submission, Monday, that the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos railway project was not captured in the 2016 budget, the Federal Government has insisted that the project was duly submitted and accepted by the lawmakers for approval.

This came on a day the Senate said the protest of the executive would not make it revisit the budget passed two weeks ago, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to submit a supplementary budget. Members  of the House of Representatives, however, kept sealed lips on the  matter, yesterday, But in a statement by the Media Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr. James Akpandem, yesterday, the federal government insisted that the relevant committees of the parliament received the document.

The statement read in full:  “In view of the recent controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, it has become necessary to state the following to set the facts straight:  The details of the 2016 budget were received by the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

“Immediately this was received, the President, desirous of signing the document into law as soon as possible, directed that copies should be made available to heads of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, of the Federal Government. “Ministers were asked to go through the details and give their reactions as it affects their respective Ministries to guide the President and enable him sign the Appropriation Bill into law.

“That process is still on-going and no statement has been issued by the Executive on the matter, apart from the one by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohamnmed, to confirm that details of the budget are being examined. No final decision has been taken by the President and no other statement whatsoever has been issued on the matter.

“With reference to the specific issue of the Calabar – Lagos rail project, we will like to state that the two railway projects, Lagos-Kano and the Calabar-Lagos, are very important projects of the present administration; and it was always the intention of the Executive to have both projects reflected in the budget submitted to the National Assembly.

“However, it will be recalled that the Budget Office made a number of errors in the initial proposals of a number of ministries. These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant committees of the National Assembly. This included that of the Ministry of Transportation.

“The amended Ministry of Transportation budget was accepted by the relevant committees and that was the version defended by the Minister of Transportation and his team. “It must be emphasized that the two rail projects are part of those for which the President is currently negotiating funding with the Chinese government. “The N60bn provided in the budget for the Lagos-Kano and Calabar-Lagos rail lines, respectively, is counterpart funding to support the Chinese financing for the projects.

“These projects are part of the Strategic Implementation Plan of the government which was disclosed by the Minister of Budget and National Planning at the National Economic Council Retreat in March 2016, in the presence of state governors. “They were also mentioned by the Vice President last week in Lagos at The Nation Newspaper’s First National Economic Forum. “It is hoped that with this clarification, the raging controversy over the Calabar-Lagos rail project will be put to rest.”

Meanwhile, the Senate,yesterday,said  that in spite of protest by the executive over alleged non-inclusion of the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar coastal rail project in the 2016 budget, it would not revisit the budget.

Instead, the Red Chamber asked President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare a detailed supplementary budget capturing the project and submit before it for consideration. The Senate, which took the decision during its closed-door session, shortly after resumption of plenary, insisted that the President must sign the budget as passed, thus giving indication that the legislature might override the President if he vetoed the bill as passed by NASS.

The closed-door session where the resolution was taken, was clouded in heated arguments as some senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, insisted on capturing the Lagos-Calabar rail project in the budget, while those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, stood firm that the President must assent the budget and later submit the project in a supplementary budget.

Vanguard gathered that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who presided over the one-hour long session, upheld the latter due to overwhelming support for it. Addressing newsmen later, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdullahi Sabi, said senators during the closed session resolved that the President should assent to the budget as passed  and include things left out in the main budget in a supplementary budget.

He insisted that the project, contrary to the position of the  executive that it was captured in the budget, was not included and asked the executive to stop instigating Nigerians against the legislature which, according to him, has done so much in the budget to ensure dividends of democracy were speedily delivered to them. He said: “I know very well that the last one week has been full of the language you guys have already crafted ‘controversy’, even though for us, there is no controversy.

“Like you will recall, I issued a press statement on Monday, on behalf of the Senate to make our position very clear with respect to the issue of the budget.  And let me make it very clear that we issued that statement simply to clarify the situation and not to confront any authority or threaten anybody. “We are a democratic institution and whatever we do, we remain guided by the grund norm of the country which is the constitution.

“Today, we have resumed plenary, having come back from our recess and, of course, we went into executive session, which is the normal practice, to welcome one another and discuss issues that we believe pertain to the burning issues on ground, in this case, the issue of the 2016 budget and the smooth workings of the Senate and the National Assembly. “Now, what we issued yesterday (Monday) remained our position.

Today, all we did was to confirm what exactly are the true pictures of these situations and in my capacity as spokesman of the Senate, I did not go to press with falsehood. “I have to verify my facts. I have to get my facts and to speak on this facts; and I think we have made that point very clear and we would definitely remain guided by the tenets of the Nigerian Constitution as we did whatever we were supposed to do.

“Now, one thing that is obvious is that yes, we have passed the budget, Nigerians are asking what next for us? What is important now is for the budget to be signed. “The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations and Section 81 of the Constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation.

“I want to assure you that the Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians.  That we said, for example, that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark on.

“So, the National Assembly, the Senate is open if the executive brings a supplementary appropriation with respect to these and any other issue that they feel very strongly about.  We are ready and willing to consider such. “But the most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution.

“I think if we do that, all these raging controversies will be off our back and we can all concentrate and begin the process of implementing the 2016 budget so that those dividends of democracy –  youth unemployment issue, the empowerment of women, the social intervention programme, the infrastructure programmes, the agricultural programmes – are treated.

“The rains are already here and all the other projects that we know will kick-start the Nigerian economy can begin to be implemented.” He said having passed the budget, “we are moving into the second phase of our responsibility, which is oversight.

“So we want to appeal to Nigerians that the Senate is committed to doing its work diligently.  It is committed to listening to the yearning of Nigerians and to do what is right.” However, members of the House of Representatives kept sealed lips on the controversy yesterday. It was expected that the matter would have been discussed at plenary, especially as it concerned the bashing the National Assembly has received since the information of  alleged “removal” of the project was made public, but non of the lawmakers raised the issue.

Even when the chairman of Appropriation Committee, Abdulmunin Jibrin, on two occasions approached the speaker, Yakabu Dogara, on the need for the issue to be raised, nothing was said about it.

Vanguard

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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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