Driven by its mission statement of protecting the interest of its members and the business community at large, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) recently organized a stakeholders’ forum on challenges militating against speedy clearance of cargo at the ports. President of the Chamber, Alhaji Remi Bello in this interview with some journalists in his office, outlined some of these hindrances to trade facilitation and the need why an import- dependent economy like Nigeria should focus more on getting its ports to work more efficiently. Shulammite ‘Foyeku was there for SHIPS & PORTS.
For record purposes sir, can you please tell us what this forum aims at achieving?
The motive behind this forum is just to see that the advocacy work of the chamber is taken further. The efficiency of port operations has become a major driver of trade and economic activities across many countries. However, over the years, users and operators at the Nigerian ports have faced persistent challenges at the ports with its attendant implications on cost and ease of doing business. Most often, importers are compelled to pay high demurrage charges for delays at the ports which were not of their own making. There are also issues of duplication of responsibilities by the government agencies operating at the nation’s port. Operation and regulation of the terminal operators is also an issue, there are reports of high and unregulated charges by terminal operators. There are also complaints about the customs Pre – arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). There are concerns about weak regulatory framework to protect port users; there are reports of high charges by shipping companies and reports of underhand activities by officials within our ports. In all of these, the importers and private sector gets to bear one burden or the other. Again, real economic and overall development of the country is constrained. For an import-dependent economy like Nigeria, getting our port, which is a major gateway to the country, to work efficiently and eliminate the entire bottleneck, is germane to a successful and prosperous economy. The aim of this forum therefore is to ventilate these issues from the stand point of major stakeholders at the ports, with a view to resolving all identified challenges and enhance trade facilitation.
We’ve heard a lot of responses from the customs representatives and several other stakeholders present at the forum, how will the LCCI follow up in ensuring that these comments are delivered on?
When we talk of trade facilitation, port operation is very vital. Like I said, what we are trying to achieve is ensuring that trade in the country is enhanced by effective port operations. We know customs is to generate revenue for the government, but most importantly, they should be driven by trade facilitation. If customs is driven by trade facilitation, it will be better for the economy and on the long run, everybody will be better off. So, I can assure you that we will follow up on the comments delivered. Like I requested at the forum, we are going to liaise with customs so that we can have a direct link with them, such that if any of our members are having issues, they can report to us and we can follow up with them. Customs should also do more publicity to educate the public on what they are doing. So we are going to follow up with customs and our members can be sure that if they have any challenges, they will get quick responses.
What would you say about the Customs PAAR regime?
Customs should improve on the operations of PAAR as it is presently; we heard there has been an improvement in the last few weeks, so they should let us see more of that improvement. We also want to appeal to customs management to extend the fast track scheme to members of LCCI.
What is your opinion about the idea of consolidating the freight forwarding industry according to the NSC boss?
Well, I don’t think there is any proposal of such idea. The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello was just thinking, not that they have it in their proposal. He was just advising that that’s how it ought to be. I think he was just making reference to the consolidation in the banking sector. You know, this is a laissez- faire economy, it can’t be decreed that this is the number of freight forwarders that can practice. It should come naturally as long as you are operating a capitalist economy, when you are not making it, nobody will tell you before you fold up. That is the way I think it should be. It shouldn’t be decreed that this is the number of freight forwarders that we should have. More so, our freight forwarders are the said SME’s. Majority of them are small and medium scale enterprises, we would not want to support that as a chamber. At our own end, we have not given it a thought, but I can assure you that the chamber will not want to support it because the freight forwarders are mostly small scale business operators. It is like you sending people out of employment. The concerned authority I think, should focus more on the area of touting. Like somebody said at the forum, if we have a good system in place, if there is automation in most of our clearance procedures, most of these touting will be reduced, if not totally eliminated.
This is the first time the chamber is having this kind of stakeholders’ forum. Would you say the purpose for which the forum was put together is achieved?
Yes, I will say we have achieved our purpose for organising this forum, in the sense that the regulators have heard from our side and we have also heard from them. Like the customs representative, we have sent him back to the customs high command that the customs management should consider granting concession to members of LCCI. We know we can’t decree that, so the customs representative had to go back with the message that the LCCI should be given fast track concession like it is given to other organisations. It is a kind of appeal to the customs management. We have also appealed that customs should be propelled more by trade facilitation rather than revenue generation.