Delay in submission of NPA probe panel report causing maritime industry crisis — Stakeholders

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Stakeholders in the maritime industry have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to compel the administrative panel of inquiry set up by the Federal Government five months ago to probe the activities of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to submit its report.

The stakeholders said the Federal Government is losing a lot of revenue while the industry is in crisis over the uncertainty created by the prolonged probe.

The 11-member administrative panel, chaired by the Director of Maritime Services, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Suleiman Auwalu, was set up on May 10, 2021 by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to investigate the activities of NPA.

The setting up of the panel followed the suspension of the erstwhile Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 6, 2021.

Buhari had approved Bala Usman’s suspension and the setting up of the administrative panel of inquiry based on Amaechi’s recommendation. The Minister alleged that under Bala Usman, the yearly remittances of the operating surpluses by NPA from 2016 to 2020 was “far short of the amount due for actual remittance”.

Amaechi, whose Ministry supervises NPA, said the agency under Bala Usman had not been financially prudent in the management of the agency since 2016.

“It has been observed from the records submitted by the Budget Office of the Federation that the yearly remittance of operating surpluses by the Nigerian Ports Authority from the year 2016 to 2020 has been far short of the amount due for actual remittance.

“In view of the above, I wish to suggest that the financial account of the activities of NPA be investigated for the period 2016-2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of one hundred and sixty-five billion, three hundred and twenty million, nine hundred and sixty-two thousand, six hundred and Ninety-seven naira only (N165, 320, 962, 697),” Amaechi’s March 2021 letter to the President read in part.

However, while inaugurating the administrative panel on May 10, 2021, Amaechi ordered it to examine and investigate the “administrative policies and strategies” adopted by Bala Usman, and confirm compliance with extant laws and rules from 2016 till date. He also asked the panel to examine and investigate compliance with communication channel, as obtained in the public service; examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date; come up with suggestions and advice that would strengthen the operations of NPA and forestall such occurrences in future; and any other matter that may be necessary in the course of the assignment.

However, more than five months after it was inaugurated, the panel has not submitted its report, thereby causing anxiety and uncertainty in the industry.

The President, Nigerian Importers Integrity Association (NIIA), Godwin Onyekazi, said major decisions that should move the industry forward and earn government more revenue have been delayed because the Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello-Koko, is “constrained on several fronts”.

“Go to NPA today and see what is happening. The place is in limbo. Major decisions are suffering. Sometimes simple approvals for ships to berth are delayed and no one seems to be in charge. Some port concessions have expired but no action is being taken to sign off the renewal.

“Several capital projects like the repair of some quay aprons that have become too weak to berth ships are not being pushed forward. More and more shipping lines are losing confidence in Nigeria as a result, and they are diverting their business to the ports of neighbouring countries.

“What this means is that the industry is in crisis and we are losing a lot of business opportunities and the government is losing a lot of money too. This is because as it is, the leadership of the industry is in limbo,” Onyekazi said.

Also speaking, a Lagos-based barge operator, Babatunde Ayinde, said his company has an approval pending in NPA for more than four months. He said all efforts to get NPA officials to act on series of letters he wrote to the authority have remained unanswered.

He said, “NPA is too important to the economy of Nigeria to be in the kind of situation that it is right. You cannot have an NPA without a substantive head for more than five months. It is too much. We need a professional management team in NPA. Politics must be taken out of the affairs of NPA. It is politics that is making it to suffer and that is also making the stakeholders to suffer. Why should politicians head a professional and highly technical agency like NPA?

“I don’t have any problem with the probe of NPA but how long will it take the committee to submit its report? Five months is too much. This is the politics I am talking about. We appeal to President Buhari to intervene in the matter to end the leadership crisis in the place.

“The President should ask the committee to submit its report within the next two weeks and he should immediately act on the report one way or the other. The industry has to move forward. Already, so many jobs are at stake as a result of the lack of substantive leadership in the industry.”