That delay in passing the Nigerian Ports and Harbour Bill

One of the draft bills that have lingered at the Legislature is the Nigerian Ports and Harbour Bill. During the 7th National Assembly, most maritime stakeholders were in high spirits that the Bill would be passed into law. They were rather discouraged when the blame game over who was delaying the Bill became the order of the day.

At a time, the Senate Committee and House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport expressed open dissatisfaction over the failure of the Presidency to submit the Ports and Harbour Bill and the Nigerian Transport Commission Bill to the National Assembly for necessary action.

Stakeholders then realised that the Nigerian Ports and Harbour Bill, the Nigerian Transport Commission Bill and other port sector reform bills which maritime industry operators thought had started undergoing legislative action at the National Assembly were still nowhere near the legislature.

Investigations showed that the bills had been with the executive arm of government which was working on them at snail’s speed. Up to the end of that session, the expectations of maritime industry operators that the bills would be passed into law during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan became an illusion.

But then Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Marine Transport, Mr Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi added another twist to it when he said the Bill was in the process of being passed into law when some stakeholders came up with some serious issues.

He said that everything about the passage of the Bill went on fine until it got to the public hearing stage when the stakeholders adopted a position that would conflict with other fiscal laws of the country.  He also disclosed that if such a position is taken, NPA would have to depend on annual appropriation, which would starve it of funds, which would not be good enough for the system considering the kind functions performed by the authority.

Another drawback came when the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Mr. Nebolisa Emodi, while speaking at a joint public hearing on the auction of overtime cargo organised by the House Committees on Finance, Marine Transport and Customs, said the ministry was working on a new Ports and Harbour Bill. He said: ”The Federal Executive Council will soon submit a bill to the National Assembly, which seeks to repel the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 1999 and enact the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Act”.

This pronouncement was obviously not helpful to the expectant stakeholders. It created opportunity for another ‘merry go round’ for want of a better phrase. In all, two things became evident; which was that either some powerful people in the society do not want the Bill to see the light of the day or that those pushing the Bill lack the necessary war chest to make it a reality.

With the 8th National Assembly, we believe the chance has obviously presented itself for well-meaning stakeholders in the industry to see to it that the Bill is fine-tuned and passed by the legislature. The Committee on Marine Transport should see to it that the Bill does not suffer the same fate as in the previous administration.

A look at the draft Ports and Harbour Bill shows that it is done to consolidate on the efforts of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration that reformed the ports. The Bill when passed will go a long way in providing enough grounds for rapid port expansion.

It is an open secret that anyone who saw the port in 2006 and who compares it to the present time will know that the concessionaires have made investment that ordinarily a government cannot bring out from its budgetary allocations to support.

To say that the reform of Nigeria’s port system was one of the best things that happened to it is to state the obvious. Goods delivery at the various seaports in Nigeria was before now characterised by long queue of vessels waiting to berth due to the low turnaround time of the vessels which attracted serious penalties.

The failure of the National Assembly to pass the Bill ten years after the completion of the port concession programme has continued to create a regulatory vacuum in Nigeria’s seaport industry.

Recent fears expressed by the concessionaires to the effect that the continued non-passage of the Bill might hinder the expected future inflow of the much needed private sector investments that will actually develop the seaports brings a dangerous dimension to the impasse and high level politicking that has prevented its passage.

It becomes more apparent when we recognise that the three primary aims of the port reform include to enhance efficiency and competitiveness of Nigeria’s seaports, reduce cost of doing business and more importantly, attract private investments to develop the ports.

  

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