The battle by a section of the freight forwarding community against the collection of the professional operating fee (POF) by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) has shifted to the Presidency as the President of one of the warring groups has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter.
President of a faction of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero in a petition dated 24th July 2015 asked President Buhari to stop CRFFN from collecting the controversial levy.
“We hereby draw the attention of his Excellency of (sic) the illegal approval by the Ministry of Transport for the collection of practitioners’ operating fees that is not covered under any existing law in the country.
“The fee is illegal as it is not the fees allowed to be collected in the (CRFFN) Act. The only recognized fees to be collected is the annual practicing fees as contained in the Act and not practitioners operating fees that has no provision in the Act,” Amiwero’s letter read in part.
He argued that since the CRFFN does not have an existing Governing Council, it is wrong for anyone to direct the collection of the POF.
“The council’s tenure expired by November 2012, which by Federal High Court ruling, cannot exercise any function until the body is constituted. The collection by the staffs of the council contravene provision of the act and the high court ruling,” he said.
Amiwero also said that the collection of practising fees had been previously cancelled at the port by the Federal Government “due to its negative implication to the economy”.
“All revenue collection in the port must be backed by law and tied to services. The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding is not rendering and service in the port but increasing port cost by such illegal approval, which is not in agreement with our domestic law or the international protocol of fees and charges connected to import and export under WTO (World Trade Association) Articles VIII.
“We here by request for the total stoppage and cancellation of the illegal fees, which negate the rule of law that is the cardinal principle of this administration,” Amiwero added.
Meanhwile CRFFN yesterday commenced preparation for the collection of the POF at the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) headquearters.
Speaking at NAGAFF Village where the CRFFN kick-started the sensitization program for the collection of the fee, the President of NAGAFF, Eugene Nweke said CRFFN had constituted a tribunal to try and jail clearing agents found guilty of evading payment of POF.
He said, “I sound it as a warning for Freight Forwarders who want to be like agents of the past that they had better wake up because there is a tribunal and a regulator saddled with task of code of conduct and professional practice.
“If you go negating any of these payment and it is obvious that the transaction is fraudulent in nature, the person will face our tribunal and if you are caught evading Customs, terminal or POF duty, you will be deregistered and jailed.”
Nweke stated further that the judgment of the tribunal could only be appealed at Ngeria’s Appeal Court.
“If you are referred to our tribunal the first you do is to pay a hearing fee of N100,000. It is a CRFFN tribunal with a judge and whatever decision made there can only be appealed at the Court of Appeal.
The tribunal is like a High Court sitting – If you are found guilty, you will be deregistered and sentenced to Kirkiri for evasion and not paying government revenue.”
Nweke also allayed the fear of importers saying collection of the fee would not impede trade facilitation.
“To us, this will not impede trade but will facilitate trade so before you start initiating business have it in mind you will pay POF. As you pay Customs Duty so also you will pay POF because when you pay the money, the message will go round the system and CRFFN by the directive of the Ministry of Transport is in the custody of shipping manifest of everyone.
“It is a system structurally organised and government is interested because they want to collect revenue.”
Also speaking, the Founder of NAGAFF, Dr Boniface Aniebonam enjoined the members of the association to make genuine declaration on their consignments.
He said that is the only way the collection of the fee can be actualized.
Aniebonam also advised CRFFN to block any available loopholes in the system because agents would always want to cut corners.
“Agents are people that want to cheat and if you don’t block loopholes, there may be problem collecting the fee.”
However, an official of the consulting firm for the collection of the POF NETPORT, Kelechi Dozie said his agency was ready to block all leakages.
“The process is automated and there will be reconciliation of manifest every month and each payment is tracked to each bill of laden; you can’t clear your goods without a unique transaction number and when there is discrepancy we will report to the Transport Ministry and any relevant agencies.”
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