Mr. Lucky EyisAmiwero is the National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agent (NCMDLCA). In this interview with ShulammiteFoyeku, he speaks on the need for government to review some of its import polices which has drastically affected volume of cargo coming into the country. He also speaks on other issues affecting port operations in the country.
How has the port fared in the last two years?
Due to government policies, the ports have been so dry. Cargo throughput has been low and the exchange rate policy has also contributed in no small measure to the low cargo throughput. The auto policy too affected the port and still affecting the port till date. Activities at the port are not encouraging because a lot of people have left the port and no much activity is happening. The last two years have been so terrible; a lot of people lost their jobs so we cannot say anything substantial have happened in the past two years, it has been so difficult largely due to government inconsistent policies. It is has been worst because it has never happened in the history of this country where people are begging and want to commit suicide. They are worried because there are no jobs. Manufacturing companies and even the Small Medium Scale Enterprise are closing down because they can’t even lay their hands on foreign exchange. So the economic indices is not so great, it has been looming and that is not the best for us especially for those who are involved in the import and export business.
What is your view on the CBN forex policy especially with regards to the 41 items?
The restriction of the 41 items is supposed to be a fiscal policy, not an exchange rate policy. It is supposed to be coordinated by the Ministry of Finance and not by the Central Bank of Nigeria. In the first place, it was a wrong thing that they have done. They don’t have the right to talk about 41 items but they can talk about their exchange rate policy. CBN is only for exchange rate not on fiscal policy because the CBN Act is very clear. So that is where they got it wrong. The ban should not have come from CBN because they have no such right because they don’t have the template on the process of importation and exportation. They have the template for exchange rate and monetary policy, not fiscal policy. The ban is one of the things that killed the industry. What the government should have done is to look at the template that the Finance (Ministry) is having and work with the template because it is the Finance Ministry that regulates the fiscal policies. Even the CBN are supposed to be under the Finance Ministry but what is happening now is what you get when an agency feels it has autonomy and that is why our economy has collapsed.
What do you think of payment in dollars to NPA by terminal operators?
In every other contract in the world, there is intervention. The minister is supposed to have a clause to intervene in this kind of situation because you don’t expect that at a time the contract was signed and the dollar rate assessed, it will remain the same, and if you look at the rate now, it has skyrocketed yet there is no cargo coming in. So how will people pay? Most of the throughputs are affected by government policies. So there is need for government to review the whole thing and see how these things will be addressed in order to cushion the effect by allowing them to pay in naira. Of course not only for the terminal operators to pay in naira but there is also need for government to also look at its policies. The issue of cargo throughput is as a result of government policies and it is affecting the operators, but they are not lacking in terms of bringing in ships but the policies have reduced the throughput. So all of these should have been included and put into consideration in their clauses. The fact that they are not having cargo and most of the cargoes have been restricted from coming into the country, which is not their fault – so the government must look into those areas so that they can address the problems because it is a contract they entered into with the terminal operators. They cannot be comparing when they entered into the contract and now because of the fluctuating dollar rate. It is not tenable for the operators because they have investment, which must be protected. It is certainly not possible for the operators to meet up with their own obligation with the kind of policies will have on ground.
What do you think of the present capacity utilization at the port, which is put at 40 percent?
We are not surprised at that because almost 70 to 80 percent importers are not bringing things in and the concession agreement is calculated on throughput but when the throughput is not there, how do you expect them to pay? The 40 percent utilization means that there is almost 60 percent of cargo that are not coming in. So there is need for reorganisation and a committee to sit down with government to look at the issues critically. It must not be a question that they must pay because they have investment and those investments must be protected. In this aspect, it is government that has to look into it. The dollar issue and the throughput issue must be reviewed. There are areas the terminal operators too have to give in for the government to intervene and make sure that things are balanced.
Recently, the Comptroller-General of Customs said the single window platform will be implemented by the second quarter of 2017 in Nigeria. How realizable is this?
The CG does not have power under the law to pronounce on single window, it is the Finance Minister through the presidency under section 36 sections 18 and 57 of the CEMA. The process of single window is under the Ministry of Finance all over the world and not under Customs. The CG does not even have the powers to make pronouncement on import and export.
Why is the Customs board not constituted?
It is left for the government to decide on that because the Customs board is supposed to be constituted by the Minister under the provision of the act so the Minister has defaulted for not constituting the board because Customs is under the purview of the Finance Ministry.
How would you access the tenure of the Transport Minister, RotimiAmaechi, so far?
The whole industry is confused; the whole system is in confusion. The confused nature of the industry is as a result of the fact that the transport minister, RotimiAmaechi is not a transporter, he is just a politician. He was appointed because of the role he played in the last election. We need a technocrat because when you bring in people who are learning, our processes will continue to be flawed and that is why the transport sector is crawling. If you look at the past two years, nothing has happened in the sector, it was just a continuation of the Jonathan’s regime. On their own, they have not been able to bring out new policies that will drive the sector, so it is a continuation of the regime. So many things have not been properly placed. There is no professionalism in what is happening in the transport sector. The sector needs people who are technical so that we can be accommodated in the streams of things in the international community. What is happening now is that there is lull in the transport sector because of the (lack of) expertise and if we don’t have it, there is nothing we can do about it. So for the past two years, we have been faced with a lot of confusion in the industry.
What do you make of the unending controversy in CRFFN?
Well, like I told them in the Senate, there is no controversy in the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). CRFFN is not supposed to be in the port by the provisions of the law. They are to operate within international boundaries because they are transporters; they are not licensed customs agents. CRFFN is for freight forwarders. The board has been dissolved since 2102 and anything that they are doing is illegal. Even Jukwe(the Registrar) that is there, is not a member of the board, he is an appointee so he does not have right to do anything. The court has ruled on that because the board does not exist, so they cannot do anything without the board in place. They are just having illegal meetings with the Minister (of Transportation). The people in CRFFN are illiterates who don’t go to school; they just jump up and down in the ports. They can’t even interpret a bill of lading.
Are you are a freight forwarder or a licensed Customs agent?
I am a licensed customs agents and a consultant. A freight forwarder is just a transporter but a licensed customs agent interprets, classifies, treats and applies the law under section 152 and 153 of the CEMA (Customs and Excise Management Act).