The Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA) last Friday called for an all inclusive maritime reform that will bring about the long awaited change in the sector that is believed to be the second highest revenue earner for the federal government.
NISA also wants the federal government to work towards the total removal of the waiver clause in the cabotage regime to further empower the indigenous shipowners to take their rightful place in the maritime sector.
The chairman of NISA, Chief Issac Jolapomo who made this known at a stakeholders’ meeting on,”Policy Guidelines for Granting of Ministerial Waivers on Cabotage”, held at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos demanded from the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar the outcome of the last Presidential Committee on Enhancing the Maritime Sector thereby calling for the total implementation of the recommendations of the committee.
Jolapomo further accused the President, Goodluck Jonathan of not showing more commitment to the development of the maritime sector arguing that the Maritime sector is no less important than the Aviation sector which has received greater attention from the President as against the maritime sector which has received little or no attention from the present administration.
While faulting the inability of the cabotage law to benefit any Nigerian ten years after it was conceived, the NISA boss disclosed that the association was no longer interested in taking guidelines but rather the government should embark on a maritime reform to further boost the confidence of the stakeholders.
According to him,”a law that has been around for ten years and Is not working cannot be said to be effective. The guideline is not our priority; our priority today is a maritime reform that will show that the government is interested in the maritime sector”.
“The aviation sector is not as much important as the maritime sector which generates a large chunk of revenue accruing to the federal government but it has received the attention of the government more than the maritime sector in the life of this present administration”.
“We should not be talking of waiver ten years down the lane but the total removal of the waiver because if we continue with the waiver, we will continue to have problems”, he said.
He disclosed that their members owed over 53 million dollars as bad debt in Nigerian banks alone adding that 50 per cent of them were already out of business even as he buttressed the urgent need for the reform in the sector.
On his part, the Secretary General of NISA, Captain D.O Labinjo observed that it was the practice in the developed countries of the world to reserve some aspects of the jobs in shipping sector for their citizens as against the practice in Nigeria where virtually every aspects of the jobs had been given out on the excuse of lack of local capacity.
Waiver according to Capt. Labinjo was supposed to be a relief valve and not the cabotage itself noting that Nigeria has made waiver more important that the cabotage regime.
I am alarmed at the kind of the vessels that are granted waiver in Nigeria. Instead of giving waivers to specialized vessels in consonance with the dreams of the initiators of the Act, we end up giving waivers to anchor handling and tankers which the Act did not envisage for waiver”.
He advanced that in other climes, they do not have the administration of waiver being handled alone by the ever busy government officials rather it was an all inclusive exercise where applications were received by the agency concerned and forwarded to the stakeholders who do the needful and make recommendations to the implementing agency which now carry out the recommended action.
He cited India and Indonesia as part of the countries that are practicing the said method begging the authorities to make the part of the exercise as according to him,” it is our jobs that are being given out”.
Responding, the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar stated that he was not in doubt that anybody in the meeting would be under-estimating the concerns raised at the meeting adding that the government in conjunction with Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) were open to receive contributions from the stakeholders on how to make the cabotage regime better.
He disclosed that from the discussions held at the meeting, the journey to the expected Maritime reform being clamoured by NISA had commenced.
He said, “about the Presidential retreat held in 2012, the President has received the recommendations, set a technical committee to review the recommendations and the final outcome has been submitted to the Economic Management Team. The salient issues raised in the recommendations are to be taken one by one”.
“You know that members of the Economic Management Team are very technical and they come from different background, some of them raised some concerns in the recommendations which are germane but with the discussions here, we now have an informed position to further open discussions at the Economic Management Team with a view to making them see the imperative of those recommendations for a more efficient and robust maritime sector”.
“Let me disabuse your minds that this government has no agenda in the maritime sector, maritime is top on the agenda of this government which you know is transformational. The President is not resting on his oars about this sector as well as other sectors”, the Minister assured.
The Minister assured that all the issues raised at the meeting had been noted and will be used to organize a more robust discussion on how to move the industry forward which is to be declared open by the President.