Clearing agents and freight forwarders have kicked against the Federal Government’s approval of Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) payment as one of the requirements for cargo release across the nation’s seaports and land borders.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who gave the approval in a letter dated 6th January, 2020, and signed by the Director, Home Finance, Okokon Udo, a copy of which was sighted by SHIPS & PORTS, stated that freight forwarders must henceforth show receipt of payment of POF before they can exit their cargoes at the ports.
The agents, who spoke at a sensitization workshop organised by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) in Lagos on Tuesday, lamented that the implementation of the new directive by the Finance Minister will lead to congestion and increase the cost of doing business at the nation’s ports.
According to CRFFN, under the POF regime, importers will pay N3.50 per every ton of cargo imported into the country, N1.50 per kilo of every air cargo, N1, 000 on every imported 20-feet container and 2,000 per 40-feet container.
Although no new date has been fixed for the collection of the controversial POF after several failed attempts by the Council, CRFFN, is however, expected to rake in as much as N10 billion annually from the imposition of these fees on shippers.
Public Relations Officers, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, PTML Chapter, Suleiman Ayokunle, expressed disappointment at CRFFN, saying that the Council has not done enough to address operational challenges faced by agents at the port but is more interested in the collection of POF.
“We have series of problems at the ports, which should be a priority for whoever that thinks well for the country. POF as good as it is being projected, can then come after the infrastructures have been put in place because every delay in cargo operation has multiplier effect. The shipping company release that POF is directly attached to simple means that if POF is not paid, you cannot get your cargo release from shipping companies, and by implication, if there is a five minute delay, it can create a one week congestion. So we believe that the machinery to make things work should be put in place before issue of POF,” he said.
On his part, an executive member of Tin Can Chapter of ANLCA, Emmanuel Onyema, said CRFFN has not made any positive impact to regulate the freight forwarding practice. He added that the POF collection would only amount to additional cost of cargo clearance for importers, which in turn, would be passed on the consumers.
“Ever since the council members were inaugurated, we have not seen any value they have added to members. We don’t see them in the port. How can they come up with the issue of money? We expected them to work because we are having challenges at the port. At the moment, cost of clearing is high and they are coming up with POF. With the amount of money they want to collect per container that means cost of clearing will increase and the importer is the one that will pay but at the end of the day, whatever they spend will be passed to the final consumer,” he said.
Another freight forwarder, Emmanuel Njoku, also expressed concern over the delay experienced in assessing the portal created by CRFFN to make the POF payment, saying that agents are finding it difficult to register on the platform. This, he said, would lead to delay in cargo clearance at the port.
Speaking earlier, the Registrar of CRFFN, Samuel Nwakohu, said with the approval from the Finance Ministry and other government agencies at the ports, there will be no going back on the collection of POF, which he said will take-off “any time soon”.
On concerns raised by the agents over the implication of the new directive on the cost of doing business at the port, the CRFFN registrar said, “If you want to make an effective law, you must make sure that it is near watertight. If the receipt of POF payment is not a condition precedent to cargo exit, then most of them will not pay. It will not add to cost of doing business. It is the practitioner who bears the cost, and that is their business, not the end user. POF is law right now and our duty is to enforce it.
“In the months to come, we shall be spending a great deal of our time on how to compete on the global platform. It therefore becomes imperative that we must raise financial capital to fund and raise the battle and the POF is our first point of takeoff. The POF regime is a win- win for the government and the practitioners with the promise of organised collective action against the numerous threats including foreign intrusion and dominance, near absence of local content participation in oil and gas services including the need to build real capacity for effective participation in the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) regime.”