Shippers Council, STOAN Disagree Over Rising Port Charges

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Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) at the weekend disagreed over Issues bordering on increasing port charges and cost of services at the nation’s seaports.
Speaking in Lagos at the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime (TAAM) conference which had as its theme ‘Port cost and port charges: A recurring decimal under ports reform regime’, the Deputy Director, Compliance Monitoring of the NSC, Chief Cajethan Agu stated that court cases instituted against the port economic regulator have stalled efforts of the agency to bring down port charges.
According to Chief Agu, “When the port economic regulator decided to wade into the issue of increasing port charges and rising cost, some people went to court to argue that the position of the economic regulator is not backed by law. They argued that the National Assembly is yet to enact a law backing the Presidential directive on the Nigerian Shippers Council to act as port economic regulator.
“But people are quick to forget that the port concession of 2006 was never backed by law. The port concession was done on a mere agreement and its working. The concession is working because we all want it to work. It is not backed by any law.
“The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) can only concession its port terminals for a duration of six years. That is what the law says.
But the port concession was done for a period of 15years, 20years and 25years on a mere agreement, and we all allowed it because we wanted it to work. It is not backed by law.
“There is a legal instrument backing up the Shippers Council as port economic regulator. The Federal High Court has affirmed it. The Appeal Court has affirmed it. The case is now at the Supreme Court.
“The position of the Shippers Council as port economic regulator is a Presidential directive that we should all allow to work, just like we allowed the port concession to work. It is then that the Council will be able to bring down port charges.”
In a fiery response to Chief Agu, the Chairman of STOAN, Princess Vicky Haarstrup argued that terminal operators shouldn’t be singled out for the rise in cost and port charges.
In the words of Princess Haarstrup who also double as ENL Consortium Chairman, “I am really disappointed when I hear Shippers Council saying the port’s concession was not backed by law.
“It is also not true to say that Terminal operators feel that because there is no legal framework backing the Shippers Council as port economic regulator, that the agency is not seen in that regard.
“It is very easy for anybody to heap the blame on terminal operators when it comes to rise in port charges and cost. But the problem is the Federal Government itself.
“I am not talking of this present government because the whole problem started long ago before this administration came on board. There is no sincerity on the part of government. There is no enabling environment.
“The terminal operators are losing money. We have invested heavily in terms of operation, but what do we get back in return?
“In 2006 when we took over the operation of the port, Dollar was N125. What is it today? N362 as at yesterday. By indication, our cost of operation has increased by almost 400%. Salaries have skyrocketed. Infrastructures, to put them in place is a lot of money. Nobody is talking about this.
“Is Customs duty of today the same thing with what was collected in 2006? Yet everybody heaps the blame of rising cost and charges on terminal operators.
“Cargoes are not being diverted to Nigeria’s neighbouring countries because of terminal operators charges, they are being diverted because of government policies.
“Customs Service will increase their tariff suddenly without thinking of somebody that has opened Letter of Credit. Has Customs not put such person in deep trouble?
“Government says stamp should be affixed on every bill. Who pays that bill. Why can’t Postman Services go out and look for jobs to generate income for themselves? Why force people to do something that they don’t want to do?
“A situation whereby so many government agencies flood the ports, collecting all sorts of payments, Who regulates them?”