We won’t pay – truck owners
Customs agents adamant
We are backed by law to collect the fees – Collecting Authority
By Gboyega Oni
Almost ten years after introduction, the Wharf Landing Fees are yet to be acceptable to critical targets such as truck owners and licensed customs agents. While truck drivers have been very reluctant to pay, the Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority has accused licensed customs agents of shortchanging both the Authority and their principals (importers) by collecting the fees from the latter and failing to remit same to the Authority.
The law establishing the fees is categorical on who should pay. According to Section 1 subsection 2 of the law, “any person in possession of goods on which Wharf Landing Fee is chargeable, whether as owner, shipper, transporter or agent shall be liable to pay the amount prescribed in schedule to this law.”
However explicit the law is, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, Chairman of Association Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), has insistently maintained that it is not the responsibility of trucks to pay the fees but rather the importers who are the owners of the goods.
He said the method and manner the staff of WLFCA go about the collection on the highways with armed security personnel is barbaric, exploitative, intimidating and undemocratic, saying many of their trucks impounded and released pay between N100, 000 and N500, 000 as fines.
While speaking further, Ogungbemi said they are not against the Wharf Landing Fees but the presence of the Wharf Landing Fees officers on the highways contributes to the frequent traffic on the two port access roads in Lagos.
He charged the Lagos State agency to adopt a modern method of collection, advising its management to engage the service of terminal operators to collect the fees before the cargo leaves the port instead of having its staff standing by the roadside flagging down trucks for the purpose of collection. With this method, he said, truck owners are being milked unjustly.
“We are not against Wharf Landing Fees but the way and manner the agency goes about the collection asking our members to pay. It is the importers that should pay not truck owners. They should do it in a modernised way instead of standing on the roads; they can contact terminal operators to collect the fees on its behalf. It is not our responsibility to pay on behalf of importers,” Ogungbemi said.
While reacting to the allegation that customs licensed agents do collect the fees from their principals (importers) and refuse to pay, a chieftain of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and Chairman of ANLCA, PTML Chapter, Elder Oluwole Obe said the allegation is not true.
He noted that if Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority is finding it difficult in collecting the fees on cargo leaving the ports customs licensed agents should not be blamed.
According to Obe, the onus is on the authority to provide a proof that customs agents collect money from their importers in the name of Wharf Landing Fees but have refused to pay.
Speaking to PortNews on the development, a senior officer of the Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority, who pleaded that his name not be mentioned, said that ignorance is not excuse in law.
He said all truck owners who are claiming ignorance of the law and customs licensed agents who have remained adamant about the fees were part of the stakeholders who attended a forum in 2013 organised by the Lagos State government to enlighten the public on the fees, noting that they all signed the communique at the end of the forum.
The officer said the management of the authority, apart from the state- organised forum, had embarked on series of dialogue with various customs agents associations in the industry like the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Fowarders (NAGAFF) and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents to seek their support and understanding on the collection of the fees from their members but the leaderships of the associations were not helpful too.
The organisation, he said, has adopted different innovative methods to make the payment easy for the stakeholders. One of them is the smart customised receipt that bears the name of the company, name of the commodity, name of vessel and date of arrival for any stakeholder who is interested to pay in advance.
Companies like Dangote, Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honeywell, Bua etc, according gto him, have embraced the idea – smart customised receipt that allows them to pay the fees in advance.
He added that truck owners and customs agents can come to their head office in the Government Reserved Area in Apapa to pay directly, saying the smart customised receipt makes the payment and collection of the fees simple and easy for both the organsations and WLFCA.
On the steps for stakeholders to take on the purchase of advance bulk tickects/permits on goods and cargo, the official said the stakeholders will provide name of vessel, its expected date of arrival; cargo description, details about cargo quantity and weight, and name and address of the owners/consignees.
Despite the innovations, he categorically stated that truck owners and customs agents have constituted themselves as a clog to the wheel of the progress of the Authority by their refusal to pay the fees, charging them and other organisations to follow the footstep of the companies that have embraced the smart customised receipt which eradicates over invoicing.
“This seamless arrangement forecloses collection of Wharf Landing Fees on the road and enhances hitch-free movement of vehicles. It also eradicates over invoicing and vice-versa,” he said.
On the idea of engaging terminal operators for the collection, he said it is a good idea which the organisation may consider, noting that Midmaritme terminal had once collected the fees for the organisation.
He said staying on the road is the last resort for them to enforce the collection which, he said, they too are not happy about as it is not a conveniet and efficient collecting method.
“We have have held series of engagements with all concerned stakeholders but our people particularly customs agents and truck owners are finding it difficult to adhere to the law. But we will continue to engage them so as to make them see reason why they need to comply with the law. They have to respect the law,” he submitted.
Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority was established by the Lagos State Government about ten years ago with the sole purpose of raising revenue for the uplift of the badly degraded Lagos ports environment. The present Chairman/CEO is Engineer Joe Igbokwe.