Plans by the Federal Government to further promote the Ease of Doing Business in the country in line with Executive Order 1 on cargo palletisation have been opposed by major importers and terminal operators. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
An initiative by the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business, which stipulates that all containerised cargoes coming into Nigeria must be palletised, has been stiffly opposed by manufacturers, terminal operators, importers and customs agents.
The new mandatory import and export policy was designed to assist the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and other relevant government agencies to quicken physical examination of containerised cargoes coming into the country.
The full implementation of the policy commenced last month. Announcing the policy to port stakeholders last year, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said that the palletisation of cargoes coming into the country would aid manual examination of consignments, while the country awaits the acquisition and installation of functional scanners at seaports and land borders.
The minister said that the government had focused attention on reducing time spent on the processing of exports and imports in order to ensure 24 hours clearance of cargo.
However, terminal operators, manufacturers, importers, freight forwarders, customs agents and other port users, who opposed the policy, advised the Federal Government to reconsider its position on the implementation of the policy because of the negative effect it would have on the economy and consumers.
According to the General Manager, SIFAX Shipping Company Limited, a subsidiary of SIFAX Group, Henry Ajoh, the government has not adequately engaged stakeholders in both the maritime and aviation industries before coming up with the policy.
The general manager argued that it would adversely affect the country’s economy as the extra cost that the importers would be made to bear will ultimately be transferred to the consumers, who would be forced to pay more. He said: “The implementation of the cargo palletisation policy will lead to an increase in the cost of shipment and importation charges. These extra charges will be passed to the end users, who buy the imported goods.
Ajoh explained that manufacturers, who also need to pay more for imported raw materials as a result of the policy, would pass the buck to consumers.
He said that the palletisation policy would not address the challenge of faster cargo clearing adequately as all imported cargoes, whether palleterised or not, would still be physically examined by the customs. He said: “The only way out is to provide modern cargo scanners at the nation’s seaports.
The issue of 100 per cent physical cargo examination is outdated and should be jettisoned by the government.
“We should take advantage of technology to drive the policy of ease of business in the maritime sector. Providing scanners is the right way to go and not compelling importers to palletise their goods. So, I am appealing to the Federal Government to reconsider their stance on the issue and also engage more with various stakeholders in order to find a position.”
Already, the company’s Group Executive Vice Chairman, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, had advocated the concession of scanning services at the ports to private investors. He explained that concession of scanning services would help improve the efficient service delivery of NCS, protect against importation of arms and other contraband goods, generate more revenue for the government and keep the country safe.
Also, the President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, pointed out that the mandatory enforcement of palletised goods in containers would reduce the normal shipment into containers and increase the number of containers for each shipment due to the space the pallet would occupy.
He added the process would also attract the presence of the plant quarantine officers in the port to regulate the implementation of the International Plant Protection Convention, adding that this would lead to additional cost to importers and clearing agents.
Amiwero advised that the government should focus on getting the scanners to function in order to limit physical examination and the use of pallets, which had been restricted in other climes to reduce the carriage of invasive plants and insects into the country. Amiwero advised that certain goods, which cannot be arranged in pallets, such as vehicles and equipment as well as fragile materials and homogeneous goods such as rice and chemicals, should be exempted from the policy.
Despite the opposition, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, said in Lagos that importers and others antagonising the policy must obey the cargo palletisation policy of the Federal Government or face sanction.
He warned that the government would not go back on the policy, saying that stakeholders in the export and import trade value chains should be acquainted with the export and import guidelines to avoid sanction.
The Nigeria Customs Service said in May 2017 that the delay in processing exports and imports accounted for the low position of Nigeria on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings, adding that there were complaints about export processes averaging between two and three weeks in Nigeria, compared to only four days in Kenya and other African countries.
The spokesman for the NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah, said another reason for the delay at the ports during the import process was the haphazard manner in which goods were packed in containers.
He said: “Different types of goods are just dumped in the container and imported into Nigeria, slowing the pace of physical examination and making it impossible for modern equipment to be used to examine containers.
“To solve that problem, shipping lines are now required to ensure that imports into Nigeria are well arranged in pallets.
Shipping lines, which failed to palletise cargo, will be sanctioned and may be asked to take back onboard the non-palletised cargo.”
There is need for the government to acquire modern scanning equipment to boost ease of doing business in all the seaports.
Financials: 33 firms get N461m fines for non–disclosure
The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) has fined 33 quoted companies N460.7 million for failure to file their audited financial statements after the regulatory due date. Checks by New Telegraph showed that some of the firms were sanctioned for their inability to meet the regulatory requirements ranging between full year ended December 31, 2014 and 2017.
The companies include Great Nigeria Insurance Plc, Daar Communication Plc, Guinea Insurance Plc, Newrest ASL Plc, Niger Insurance Plc, Nigerian Enamelware Plc and Phama-Deko Plc.
Also included are Premier Paints Plc, Presco Plc, Royal Exchange Plc, Fortis Microfinance Bank Plc, Sovereign Trust Assurance Plc, Staco Plc, Standard Alliance Insurance Plc, Thomas Wyatt Plc and Union Diagnostic & Clinical Services Plc. Others are Unity Bank Plc, Equity Assurance Plc, A.G. Leventis Nig Plc, African Alliance Plc, Afromedia Plc, Austin Laz & Co. Plc, Capital Hotel Plc and Capital Oil Plc, among others.
Further checks showed that African Alliance Plc, Great Nigeria Insurance Plc, Thomas Wyatt Plc, Fortis Microfinance Bank Plc, Daar Communication Plc, Ekocorp Plc, Niger Insurance Plc, Academy Press Plc, Guinea Insurance Plc and Universal Insurance Plc shared about N362.5 million of the fines, which represents 78.76 per cent of the total figure.
The Exchange, in its X-Compliance report, explained that the initiative was designed to maintain market integrity and protect investors by providing compliance-related information on all listed companies.
The report stated: “Companies that are listed on the Exchange are required to adhere to high disclosure standards, which are prescribed in Appendix 111 of the Listing Rules.
“Financial information, which is periodic disclosure and on-going material events disclosure, should be released to The Exchange in a timely manner to enable it efficiently perform its function of maintaining an orderly market.”
The NSE, in an effort to achieve a world class capital market, had reiterated its commitment to maintaining zero tolerance posture on dealing member firms and quoted companies on violations of rules and regulations.
This is on the back of the exchange’s determination to shift gears to drive innovations cantered on increasing global visibility for the Nigerian capital market in the current year. Chief Executive Officer, NSE, Mr. Oscar Onyema, said recently that the Exchange will sustain a zero-tolerance stance on dealing member firms and listed companies’ violations to help boost confidence in the market.
Managing Director, Crane Securities, Mr. Mike Eze, reacting to the development, said the action of the NSE will boost investors’ confidence in the market because it is sending a signal that the NSE’s management understands the need for investors to get companies’ financial reports as and when due.
Eze said sanctioning erring companies is a way the Exchange is using to tell the investing public that they really want to revive confidence in the market. He added that investors need to take informed decisions before choosing which stock to buy, which, he said, could only be achieved if there is adherence of good corporate governance by the quoted companies.
A founding member of Nigeria Shareholders Solidarity Association (NSSA) and one of the leading shareholders’ activists, Alhaji Gbadebo Olatokunbo, said penalizing erring companies is a signal that it is no longer business as usual.
“The action is great and it shows that the NSE management is becoming alive to its responsibilities.
Besides, it is a signal to the companies in particular and the capital market in general that it is no longer business as usual. We must always abide by the rules,” he said.
Olatokunbo noted that the sanction would make other companies sit up and post their results as and when due, thereby providing investors, analyst and stockbrokers the platform to predict the real value of the companies.
BOFIA: Proposed amendments to boost financial system stability
With proposals such as tougher sanctions for defaulters and more powers for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the House of Representatives bill to amend the Banking and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) seems to boost prospects of a safer banking system for the country. TONY CHUKWUNYEM writes
With the BOFIA regulating banking and other financial institutions as well as related matters in the country, there were often calls for it to be amended to accommodate the dynamics and challenges in regulation in the industry.
So given that the Seventh House of Representatives had made efforts but failed to amend the Act, it perhaps did not really come as a surprise to industry watchers that the current members of Nigeria’s lower House will decide to continue from where their predecessors.
Indeed, if the statement made by the Chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, Mr. Jones Onyereri, while unveiling plans to pass a bill which: “seeks to amend the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 2004 and to re-enact the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 2017, and for matters connected therewith,” in March last year, is anything to go by, the country could have a new, tougher BOFIA before elections next year.
He had said at the time : “I’m worried to the extent that if you look at the BOFI Act amendment bill, you will agree with me that most banks create unnecessary infractions. How will you ask a bank to pay N100,000 for an infraction, that is why the bank can afford to give themselves billions of credit facility at the expense of the depositors.
“With respect to the regulator’s, there’s nothing weighty about the consequences of not doing your job as it were because why would you have the banking supervision department and you know that the law provides that no shareholder or bank director will give credit to himself or anybody whosoever related to him or her in excess of N50,000 but you are giving billions of naira.
“Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), you know that no bank has the authority to give any loan whatsoever without the express approval of the CBN and you allow that to happen. So the time has come to take critical look at the BOFI Act and trust me, in the next two to three months, we will come out with the amendment, enough is enough,” he said.
Also, giving details of the proposed BOFIA amendments while briefing the House during a plenary session in last December, Onyereri said: “Section 44 makes provision for disqualification and exclusion of certain individuals from management of banks. It further provides that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a bank appointed by the Board of Directors under such terms and conditions approved at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) shall not serve as a CEO for a cumulative period of more than 10 years.
“Section 44 (6) imposes a fine not less than N50 million on any bank that contravenes the provisions of this section and a fine of not less than N50 million or imprisonment for a term not less than three years or both on any director, manager or any other officer of the bank who contravenes the provisions of this section.”
According to him, section 47 of the bill also proposed a fine of not less than N50 million on any bank that contravenes any provisions of the Act, which an offence or penalty is not expressly provided for.
Specifically, he stated: “Section 2(2) of the bill imposes a penalty of not less than N50 million and imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years or both against any person that transacts a banking business without a banking license.
“Section 5(4) provides for a fine of not less than N20 million against any director, manager or officer of the bank that fails to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with any of the conditions of the licence.
“Section 16(2) imposes a fine of N20 million against any manager or officer of a bank who fails to disclose any personal interest in any advance loan or credit.
“Section 16(11) imposes a fine of N50 million against any director that fails to disclose any property whether directly or indirectly owned that conflicts with his duties or interests as a director of a bank. Section 18(8) provides for a fine of N50 million and five years imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment upon conviction on any bank officer that grants facilities exceeding 20% of the banks paid up capital to persons/organizations without authority of the board.
“Section 22(2) provides for a fine of N10 million against any director, manager, or officer of a bank who fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that the bank keeps proper books of account with respect to all transactions of the bank and imposes a fine of N20 million on any director, manager or officer of a bank that willfully caused a default by the bank in respect of the provisions if this section.
“Section 25(6) imposes fine of N2 million for every day a bank fails to publish on two daily newspapers its detailed financial statements.
“Section 27 also provides for the appointment, power and report of auditors. It further imposes a fine of N50 million against any auditor approved under this section that contravenes the provisions of this section and a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years in the partners if the auditor is a firm.
“Section 28(5) imposes a fine of not less than N20 million on a bank that fails to provide the required books, documents or information required by a CBN appointed examiner and an additional fine of N2 million for everyday the offence continues,” Onyereri said.
Significantly, the bill received widespread support from members leading to Speaker Yakubu Dogara who presided over the plenary, to direct Onyereri’ s Committee to continue with further legislative action on it.
Thus, last week, the Committee held a two-day public hearing on the proposed amendments to the Act, which ended in Abuja last Wednesday.
Attended by key stakeholders such as the CBN, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and several Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), the hearing saw the lawmakers and the regulators brainstorming on the way forward for the country’s banking industry.
Interestingly, while the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and the Managing Director/Chief Executive, NDIC, Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim, both welcomed the proposed amendments to BOFIA, especially as regards to incremental sanctions directed mainly at individuals rather than the institutions, they, however, disagreed on the amount defaulters should pay.
For instance, Emefiele who was represented by CBN Director, Legal Services, Mr. Johnson Akinkunmi, said while increases in fines may not necessarily deter banks from breaching regulatory guidelines, he was optimistic that the significant increment in money penalties in the proposed amendment would help to address the problem.
However, the NDIC boss, who was represented by the Corporation’s Director of Legal/board secretary, , Mr. Belema Taribo, opposed the proposed fines saying they were too high.
“The NDIC, as a deposit insurer supports the passage of the bill into law as the current fine of N1000 does not meet contemporary realities. However, it is our submission that the proposed penalty of N200,000 is above 100 per cent increment from the current penalty. In view of the above, we propose a fine of N5000.”
Also, while the CBN Governor asked that the Apex Bank be granted reserved powers to revoke licences of non-compliant financial institutions where necessary, the NDIC proposed that the CBN should seek its consent before granting any application for banking licence.
“This is to enable the corporation have a prior evaluation of the applicants with regard to insurance of deposits,” the NDIC stated, adding that the power of banks to reverse revoked licences should be removed from the Act as the case is in other jurisdictions.
It said banks could, however, challenge the revocation if done in bad faith- where only damages could be sought.
The CBN had argued that the reserve power would enable it to revoke licences of non-compliant financial institutions where necessary, while any challenge of such powers by affected banks in a law court will be penalised.
Citing the case of Savannah Bank, the CBN said such legal tussles were not in the best interest of bank customers and investors, noting that though Savannah Bank’s licence had been restored as directed by the Courts, depositors were yet to get their deposits as the lender has not been able to resume operations.
However, the lawmakers expressed concern that granting such extensive powers to the CBN could lead to abuses, a claim, which Emefiele strongly denied, citing instances where the regulator could have taken harsh measures against some banks, but restrained itself in order not to send the wrong signal to bank customers.
Other notable requests by the banking watchdog include its call for the abolition of Shell banks in the country on the grounds that they serve as institutions for money laundering and, “power to inject funds into a falling bank by way of equity participation up to a level that guarantees control by CBN.”
Although it is still not certain at this stage when and if the bill will be passed and eventually signed into law, the consensus among financial experts is that it is likely to result in a safer, stronger banking system.
As a financial analyst, Mike Ogugua, put it: “An amendment of BOFIA is clearly overdue so I believe the lawmakers have consulted widely with stakeholders. From what I have read, the bill will generally make banks to embrace good corporate governance, which will be make the banking system safer.
Nigeria exports N97.24bn liquefied gas to Asia
Five vessels laden with 308,000 tons of liquefied natural gas valued at N97.24 billion ($270.1 million) have left Nigeria through Onne Port this month as demand for gas by China, Pakistan and India soars.
It was learnt that global liquefied natural gas shipments have risen 40 per cent since 2015 to almost 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) a month since last January. It was also gathered that the strong economic growth and cold winter across the Asian countries has pushed up the demand to a doubling of LNG prices from mid-2017 till February, this year. Last January, ex-plant LNG prices were quoted at $877 (5,700 yuan) per ton at China.
Among the vessels laden with 308,000 tons of the products are LNG Bonny II with 70,000 tons, LNG Golar Bear, 70,000 tons; LNG Enugu, 68,000 tons; LNG Ogun, 70,000 tons and LNG Nave Bellatrix, 30,000 tons. According to Business Monitor International (BMI) Research, the global LNG tanker market looks increasingly bullish for 2018 and 2019 because of strong demand growth.
Last year, Pakistan had turned to Nigeria for a new trade deal to import more liquefied natural gas. Following the deal, Pakistan’s per annum import of gas, which stood at 4.5 million tons, was increased to nine million tons by the end of 2017.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had explained a total of N372.44 billion was earned by the Federal Government from LNG exports in the first quarter of 2017. Last year, Nigeria exported 3.40 million metric tons through Onne and Warri Ports between January and December.
T he gas was transported to India, Pakistan, China and other major buyers such as Colombia, Turkey, Egypt, Jamaica, Jordan and Poland. Between last September and October, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) shipping data revealed that a total of 443,000 metric tons of the product were carried by seven vessels from Onne Port to various destinations.
Last October, 130,000 tons of the product were ferried out of the country by LNG Sokoto, laden with 65,000 tons and LNG Akwa Ibom, 65,000 tons respectively.
Also in September, LNG Abalamabie left the country with 77,000 tons; LNG Ogun, 68,000 tons; MT Tom Arawa, 25,000 tons; LNG Lokoja, 68,000 tons and LNG Abuja II, 75,000 tons.
Last July and August, 506,000 metric tons of gas was exported out of the country. A total of 388,000 metric tons of the product were ferried out from Onne Port in June, while six vessels exported 389,000 tons of gas from Onne and Warri ports in May, 2017.
March and April shipment recorded a total of 293,000 metric tons from Onne Port, while 274,000 tons was taken away from Warri Port.
At Onne Port, LNG Trinity Arrow ferried 65,000 tons; LNG Kano, 68,000 tons; LNG Cross Rivers, 65,000 tons; LNG Adamawa, 65,000 tons and Silver Joan, 65,000 tons, while, LNG Kano exported 65,000 tons; LNG Enugu, 68,000 tons; LNG Ogun, 68,000 tons and LNG Maran Gas Agamemnon, 70,000 tons from Warri Port.
In February this year, 365,000 tons of gas was exported from Onne Port by LNG Cross Rivers laden with 65,000 tons; LNG Goodside Goode, 70,000 tons; LNG Pskov, 70,000 tons; MT Aegean Wave, 25,000 tons; LNG Maran Gas Mystras, 65,000 tons and LNG Vuekiy Novgorod, 70,000 tons.
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