By Adegboyega Oni
The Nigerian Minister of Finance Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed has been taken to the cleaner by the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) over what it described as a dereliction of duty by the minister most especially as it relates to the poor state of cargo handling operations by the Nigeria Customs Service at the ports (air and sea) and border stations in the country.
The association maintained that the minister, since her assumption of office, has never deemed it fit to visit the nation’s ports to ascertain the level of operations and also as the Chairman of the Board, Nigeria Customs Service, she has never convened any meeting that could have helped her ministry and the Service to review the existing trade policies or formulate new ones in the interest of the national economy.
NAGAFF officials were of the opinion that the minister is not well-grounded in foreign exchange as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), an agency under her control, always dishes out conflicting exchange policies that cause summersault in trades.
Dr. Eugene Nweke, a former President and Head of Research and Policy Group of NAGAFF, on behalf of the association, wrote the minister recently and pointed out all these anomalies in her style of operations.
The letter states thus: We observed that, as the nation’s Finance Minister, from your assumption of office to date, we hardly can link point to the last time you undertook on the spot assessments of port performances or visitation to our international gateways ( ports and border stations) to the nation’s economy.
We are compelled to even ask if the extent of the reported incidences of looming and thriving “port congestion” really matters to you. Thereby ultimately compelling you into taking action, by identifying the root causes of the congestion, the implications to the business environment and the economy at large, and proffering solutions.
We observed that as the minister in charge, agencies under your watch intermediately issue without recourse to stakeholders engagements and without streamlining between trade and monetary policies, a situation that portrays our international trading image as a nation with ” unstable” trade policy and as such jeopardize business trusts and the principles of trade predictability and forecast.
We also observed that the nation struggled to nearly come out of avoidable recession even as it seems to nose-diving back to recession. Here again, it is important to state that, as a maritime nation whose economy is dependent on international traded goods ( imports), which activities are denoted in foreign currency, the need to contemplate and champion a national course towards a new national shipping policy in collaboration with the Transport Ministry.
Events seem to have overtaken the present national shipping policy whereby capital flights and inflation are evenly promoted at the detriment of the nation.
For instance, as the Finance Minister in charge, part of your duty is to constantly undertake a review of all trade-related policies, and then review and make public the nation’s imports and export guidelines ( which was last published was in 2004) in view of numerous changes in the shipping, port operations and the ITC application, which is presently driving the ever dynamic trade environment. The non-official focus in this regard creates loopholes that affect the overall economic interests of the nation.
We observed that, as the Finance Minister in charge, you are supposed to oversee the administrative affairs of the Nigeria Customs Service, by presiding over the agency’s Board, as its Chairman.
We can hardly pinpoint the last time the board met to review critical trade and revenue concerns for the purpose of fiscal policy formulation and budgetary concerns. Ask critical stakeholders in the port value-adding supply chain, we are aware of the numerous nagging challenges and issues confronting the customs administration, which are far from the partial concession of the Customs operations via E-custom modernization concession as was announced by you.
Therefore, embarking on a concession agreement that thrives and promote trade flexibility and transparency with a prevalence legislative document which is governed by the principles of trade rigidity, scrutiny and crookedness, only suggest that in the future, such concession agreement can be quashed on the grounds of illegitimacy.
The association noted that the minister has made any public presentation of analytical statistics and data on the impacts of the high cost of doing business in the customs port ( import clearance out of Customs control) or considered a public presentation on the effects to the consuming public and their plights thereof. It added that ‘’we cannot confidently pinpoint at any proffered enduring 10 years economic forecasts/projections with doable indices presented to the nation for public scrutiny that will engender an economic and financial advancement in all sector or facets.
‘’We observed that, as finance minister, you have not convincingly offered solutions nor demonstrates expertise towards the effectiveness, monitoring and controlling of inflation and foreign exchange rate fluctuations as this is the critical element that promotes the high cost of goods above the purchasing power of the large citizens of our nation.’’
NAGAFF noted that freight forwarders were so far dissatisfied with her supervisory roles especially in the trade and customs operations and, therefore, charged the minister to reconsider to change her methods, work beyond her comfort zone and serve the interests of over 180 million Nigerians at heart.