An objective tariff structure is being considered by government to halt indiscriminate charges by shipping companies. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
Realising that appropriate tariff could boost shipping and the country’s economy, the government is making moves to introduce suitable charges that can make Nigerian ports the hub of shipping in West Africa.
For some years, Nigerian shippers have been exploited by shipping firms through various charges such as storage charge, harbour charge, container cleaning, container deposit, demurrage, high cargo and terminal handling charges as well as multiplicity of fees.
Already, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad have stopped using the nation’s seaports, leading to an annual loss of three million cargoes because of high tariffs and illegal charges.
It was gathered that high charges were imposed by terminal operators and ship owners for certain reasons including general cargo, bulk cargo, bulk liquid, container, empty containers, foreign vessels, coastal vessels, tally, progressive storage charge and free storage period.
Others are shipping line agency charge and maintenance fee, as well as container demurrage, as the appropriate agency, the Nigerian Shippers Council lacks enough power to control the exploitation.
A customs agent, Mr. Samuel Elem, said that shippers were being forced to pay arbitrary charges without the government intervention.
Just last month, he noted that CMA, CGM Shipping Nigeria Limited and some shipping lines introduced another charge ranging from N38,000.00 for a 20 feet container to N76,000.00 for a 40 feet container as destination fees.
He blamed NSC for not living up to its expected responsibilities despite its mandate as the port economic regulator.
However, the council said that the issue of high charges and unapproved charges would be addressed by the government soon.
It noted that any increase in tariff would now be decided scientifically before an approval is given to service providers.
The council said that the process would involve all parties on a negotiation table after a formal request for such increase had been submitted to the ports economic regulator by the service providers.
The council’s Executive Secretary, Hassan Bello, who was worried over illegal and high tariffs, said that NSC was more interested in establishing machinery for objective tariff structures rather than some punitive issues.
The executive secretary disclosed that the council was working towards a modern tariff system with the shipping companies.
Although he noted that the council was not adverse to raising and lowering tariffs, he, however, said he would ensure that all procedures are adhered to.
Bello said that NSC would ensure that the provisions of the law on tariff setting must be followed by the service providers.
He said: “There are procedures entrenched in the Nigerian laws, so we urge everybody to obey the law. The truckers are here, we are negotiating their tariffs.
“People should come and say, we want to raise tariff or we want to lower them as the case may be, because there are times when you need to do that.
“All we are saying is that you are operating in a clime of laws. Nigeria is a country of laws, so please, come and abide with the laws of this country.”
Also, he noted that Nigerian port charges must be considerably competitive with tariffs in neighbouring ports, especially those ports the country is challenging.
He stressed that the council was looking at competitive tariffs.
“It can’t be all the same. But we have the minimum; we have the maximum within which to give them leverage. So this will emphasise the competition,” he said.
Bello noted that the council had been getting cooperation from shipping companies desirous of establishing machinery for future tariff setting.
“The shipper has the choice to take his goods where he has economic advantage. So, it is a question of efficiency. It is an economic decision by the shipper to say, let my goods come to terminal A rather than terminal B because I get the goods faster,” he said.
Bello emphasised that such tariff system among the service providers would be such that the shipper had an option to make an economic decision on which terminal to choose to get his goods out while enjoying efficient, affordable cost and other advantages.
Government should block all loopholes creating avenue for illegal charges at the ports.
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