Fresh controversy trails port reform bills

The 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 are still nowhere near the legislature.

The bills have been with the executive arm of government which has been working on them at snail’s speed and with remarkable levity. Consequently, the expectation of maritime industry operators that the bills would be passed into law during the life of the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has turned into mere wishful thinking.

It was gathered from the speeches of the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Sen. Zainab Kure at the just concluded 13th edition of the Maritime Seminar for Judges in Abuja that the bills are still with the Ministry of Transport.

According to the Minister, the all important bills are still “being processed”. The Senate Committee Chairman, Hajia Zainab Kure in her own speech appealed to the Minister to send the bills to the national assembly, saying that the national assembly has been waiting for them to work on.

“This reminds me. The Hon. Minister of Transport, I would like to say that the Marine Transport Committee has been waiting for those bills to work on. They have been anxiously waiting for those bills that have a bearing on the ports especially the Ports and Harbours Bill…so that they will be a thing of the past.”

The Ports and Harbours Bill has been embroiled in confusion and controversy since the conclusion of port concession in 2006. Two versions of the bill have been in circulation as there is one emanating from the national assembly which had passed through second reading and one through public hearing before controversy with the executive arm stalled the passage.

The controversy between the executive and the legislature over the bill blew open during a joint public hearing on the auction of overtime cargo organized by the House Committees on Finance, Marine Transport and Customs in Abuja.
Trouble started when the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Engr. Nebolisa Emordi, who represented the Minister, Senator Idris Umar, at the event, while making his presentation hinted that the Ministry was putting finishing touches to the Ports and Harbours Bill for submission to the National Assembly.
“The Federal Executive Council will soon submit a Bill to the National Assembly, which seeks to repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 1999 and enact the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Act. This Act envisages the provision of ownership, management, operation, development and control of ports and harbours, make the Ports and Harbour Authority the technical regulator and promote private participation,” he had said.
This infuriated the Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who quickly remarked that the ministry’s action was nothing but a duplication of the efforts of the legislators.

“Why is the executive producing another Ports and Harbours Bill when we already have one here at the National Assembly? Are you people not aware that there’s a Ports and Harbours Bill here sponsored by the Deputy Speaker and co-sponsored by me and which has passed second reading in the House? So, is it your own that the Senate will approve or the one sent from the House to the Senate?” he queried.
At the moment, confusion now surrounds the one being prepared by the executive and it may not see the light of day during the life of this administration. While stakeholders expected the bill to be at the national assembly by now, the Minister of Transport merely said last Tuesday that the bill is being processed without telling at what stage it is in the processing.

It would be recalled that early last year, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) appointed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke, as chairman of a special committee set up to fine-tune the proposed bills. But more than one year after, the bill is yet to get to the national assembly deeming every hope of it being passed during the life of the present administration.