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Fresh push for efficiency at ports

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 | 00:00

For the Federal Government to boost revenue from the non-oil sector, facilitating trade through improvement in the turnaround time for goods must be taken seriously.

The government has repeatedly stated its commitment to diversifying the economy.

One of the steps to realise that the single-window system.

The implementation of a single window system enables international (cross-border) traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity. Such documents are typically customs declarations, applications for import/export permits, and other supporting documents such as certificates of origin and trading invoices.

At the opening ceremony of the 2018 Lagos International Trade Fair concluded few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari who was represented by Prof Osinbajo, announced plans by the Federal Government to establish a NSW to cut trade times and costs by making information flows more efficient and streamlining trade procedures and address other issues affecting the transaction cycle in bringing in goods, clearing and exporting it through the ports.

What is a Single Window?

A Single Window is an organic mixture of the collaborative efforts of parties involved in a nation’s international trade activities. It uses the latest information communications technology (ICT) techniques, international data and messaging standards together with simplified, harmonised and remodelled information systems for data exchange to replace traditional paper-based information.

What is delaying the scheme?

Speaking at the forum, Prof Osinbajo said the scheme is being delayed due to issues concerning individual Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) such as the Nigerian Ports Authority (‘NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), various terminal operators, shipping companies and other government agencies at ports and border stations trying to align their various electronic platforms to the NSW platform.

The Vice President however, expressed optimism on the delivery of the promise by the Federal Government in the shortest possible time.

Commitment from government, stakeholders

A maritime lawyer and university don, Mr Dipo Alaka, said the implementation of a NSW involves many stakeholders and requires long-term commitment from government and business.

The platform, Alaka said, must fit the environment and level of development in the country.

A former General Manager, Public Affairs of the NPA, Chief Michael Kayode, said at each phase of port development, the Federal Government, needed to look at the prevailing global trends and plan for 20, 30 and even 50 years ahead and make all the necessary adjustments to its plans along the way. “The introduction of a national single window platform is another key plank in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s strategy to make the Nigerian port a hub of maritime activities in Africa,” Ajayi said.

What CBN has done

Findings revealed that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had last year, established a foreign exchange (Forex) window for investors and exporters to boost liquidity in the market and ensure timely execution and settlement of eligible transactions.

But the country is still faced with lots of challenges with import and export procedures, which the VP said the NSW would address.

FIRS’ efforts

Osinbajo said tax payments and remittances have also been simplified through the e-filing system by the Federal Inland Revenue System (FIRS), saying importers and exporters are also not left out with the documentation required for imports and exports. These have been significantly reduced from 14 to eight and 10 to seven. According to him, since 2016, the Federal Government had so far in the past two budget cycles spent N2.7 trillion on capital, which he said was mostly on infrastructure.

Speaking with The Nation on the sideline of the Association of African Maritime Administrations (AAMA) Conference in Egypt recently, the Director-General of (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside said to become African maritime hub, Nigeria needs a single window platform to deliver the highest value in terms of efficiency, quality and reliability of service.

“Promoting efficiency is a major challenge confronting many African ports today. A global benchmarking study conducted by SAP found that ports that leverage technology to drive productivity improvements enjoy 36 per cent higher operating margins than similar peers and that is why the Federal Government of Nigeria is working tirelessly to institute a single window operation in our ports.

“Port automation and digital solutions are potential game-changers, not only for cargo throughput but also profitability.”

Peterside told the delegates that the Buhari led- administration has the vision and determination to make the Nigerian ports, the hub of maritime activities in the West and Central Africa through the introduction of a national single window operation, provision of maritime security, improvement in port infrastructure, formulation and implementation of other laudable programmes.

Peterside, who is also the chairman of AAMA, said the geographical location of Nigeria will aid its transformation to a regional maritime hub after the introduction of the new platform to boost efficiency and competitiveness.

”Today, we are celebrating Singapore based on the Vision of its leaders. And I am also happy to inform you that the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari is doing everything possible to make the Nigerian ports the hub of maritime activities in the West and Central Africa,” he said.

He added that the Buhari administration has a long-term, strategic port planning system that will ensure that the nation’s sea ports provide adequate capacity to meet the demands of key shipping lines and their alliance partners in siseable blocks of volume.

The NIMASA chief said Africa needs leaders who have strategic vision and viable courage to make bold decisions that will enable the Nigerian sea ports and other ports in Africa to stay ready for the future, be a pacesetter, reap first-mover advantages, and thrive in a dynamic and competitive global maritime business.

Nigeria’s strategic vision for its ports, he said, are being built on the three Cs of Connectivity,, Capacity and Competitiveness

African leaders, Peterside added, need to emulate Singapore in taking the right decision and making the necessary investment to develop port infrastructure and technology to boost efficiency and economy.

The Federal Government, the NIMASA boss revealed, is emulating Singapore and other maritime nations of the world in terms of short, medium and long term planning that will assist the Nigerian ports to compete favourably with other ports across the globe and urged other African countries to emulate them.

He added that the maritime sector forecast released by NIMASA recently and the training of over 2500 seafarers by the agency were part of the efforts to make the Nigerian ports.competitive

He urged African maritime administrators to identify areas where they have comparative advantage, their weaknesses and the opportunities they have to reduce poverty and the high level of unemployment ravaging the content.

He stressed that there was need for maritime administrators across the continent to come up with beautiful ideas so that people can invest in their programmes the way the World Bank and other financial institutions did for Singapore in 1972.

Paucity of fund, according to him, cannot, and must not be allowed to delay the growth of the maritime sector in the continent of Africa.

Many stakeholders who spoke with the paper believe that it will be easier for the carmel to pass through the eye of the needle than to clear goods at the ports within the stipulated 48 hours. To overcome the challenges, some have advocated quick adoption of a national single window( NSW), to remove human contact, reduce corruption, boost efficiency and transform the ports to international standard.

For ports users, the challenges of doing business are almost limitless. Achieving 48-hour cargo clearance at the ports has remained a mirage. It has made doing maritime business in neighbouring countries in the sub-region attractive.

“However, there appears to be a consensus that limited co-ordination among agencies, terminal operators and other stakeholders is the greatest obstacle. Importers, clearing agents and other port users face stringent, overlapping and onerous requirements that have made the adoption of a Single Window (SW) imperative to boost efficiency and reduce corruption,” said the a maritime lawyer, Mr Davis Abraham.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, told The Nation that the agencies, terminal operators and stakeholders must key into the government’s initiative of promoting the SW platform to meet the 48-hour cargo clearance deadline.

The NPA, she said, has embarked on the establishment of a SW through an intense automation and introduction of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

”There is no doubt that the adoption of a national SW will strengthen the port industry by boosting efficiency and reduce cost and time, which are the major objectives of port concession agreement signed by private terminal operators,” she said, adding that the SW has been used by many countries to facilitate trade at ports.

The adoption of the SW, according to Ms Usman, will make local ports competitive in the international trade network and boost trade facilitation programmes of the Federal |Government. “It will also reduce corruption and entrench transparency and accountability in the port operations,” she said.

The desired reforms at the ports, it was learnt, may not be completed without the full implementation of the SW platform by the ports, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and others in the chain of trade facilitation.

A senior official of the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMoT), who craved anonymity, said the Federal Government would generate additional $800 million yearly from the ports and border stations if government agencies key into the SW initiative.

The official urged the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to compel the NCS, the police and other agencies at the ports to key into the platform to facilitate trade and generate more revenue. He also urged the National Assembly to back the initiative with a law.

The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council ( NSC), Mr Hassan Belo, said the single window is a laudable initiative, which a country like Nigeria ought to embrace to transform the ports.

He said the platform would enhance trade competitiveness through improvement in import, export, transit procedures and information sharing system.

The facility, he said, would ensure that there is a paperless Customs declaration, compliance and online approval.

The current 100 per cent physical examination of goods, according to him, would be reduced and all government agencies at ports integrated.

Bello added: “The single window facility will also need to be supported by legislation from the National Assembly.”

“The National Single Window is the ultimate in port operation. But it must be multi-agencies integrated for it to be successful. The port is a transit point and our ports must be seen and used as such. That is why we have dry ports across the country to decongest the port and NPA as the landlord must have a say.”

Advantages of NSW

A senior official of the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMoT) who craved anonymity said the purpose of the SW is to provide a platform and processes for a paper-less (electronic) system.

“The ultimate national SW includes all of the information exchanged by traders; government departments (including Customs); maritime, air, road, rail and inland waterway transport systems; port and terminal operators; and a range of other participants in the trade process, including freight forwarders, customs brokers, shipping agents, banks and insurance companies. The management, or governance system, which oversees this major transition from paper and traditional business processes to electronics-based and re-engineered systems is the major challenge in a comprehensive sequence of conversion and change management activities that are themselves serious challenges.

“The NSW is unavoidable if the country intends to remain engaged in expanded and more efficient global maritime trading activities. And the benefits are considerable and long-lasting. The reverse is also said to be huge for those countries that delay engagement in single window implementations as they will be increasingly subjected to powerful inhibitors to national trade efficiency and economic growth.

“Those that need to collaborate with the NPA in its drive to have a national SW are importers, exporters (consignors and consignees), trade professionals (freight forwarders, Customs brokers and shipping agents), shipping companies, airlines, road, rail and inland waterways, duty free zones, dry ports and multi-modal cargo depot, ports and airports, container terminals, bulk terminals, port gate operations and Customs and all agencies that have a trade compliance responsibility, licensing, permit issuing and/or inspection responsibilities.

“The need for collaboration has given the requirements for faster information delivery, often in advance of shipping, for security and other purposes, and the growing needs of data harmonisation in international supply chains.

“The ability of government agencies to handle data efficiently and swiftly has, in fact, become a key element in international competitiveness, especially in port operations.

“A single window is designed to overcome this complex system of data submission and regulatory control. It is designed to sit at the national junction of national and international trade data exchange, thereby presenting a single point of access to all other relevant trade systems. While the primary objective is the single electronic submission of data, establishing a single window necessitates a major rationalisation of current approaches and requirements to trade administration and operations, especially the reuse and elimination of duplication of existing data wherever possible, together with widespread e-Government applications and trade-related ministry.

“The single window evolved as a single physical office that was established to handle all formalities, compliance and payment processes. This was commonly known as a “one-stop-shop”, or “guichet unique”. Initially, the trade or trade facilitation single window was applied to the trader’s lodgement of customs declarations and ministerial licences and permits. The concept, being championed by the NPA, has now been extended by the authority to include the complete trade, transport and logistics community to boost efficiency and reduce corruption,” the FMoT official said.

The Vice President, association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto, said the adoption of the SW will enable importers/exporters to submit documentation and/or data requirement for importation, exportation or transit to a single entry point; ensure onward distribution of documentation and/or data requirements to the participating authorities or agencies through the platform.

After the examination by relevant authorities or agencies of the documentation and/or data, the results, he said, shall be notified to the applicants through the SW timely, and in cases where documentation and/or data requirements have already been received by the Single Window, the same documentation and/or data requirements shall not be requested by other agencies except in urgent circumstances and other limited exceptions, which are made public. “Government agencies must apply relevant international standards and practices as basis for the single window schemes,” Farinto said.

An importer, Mr Yusuf Aladejobi, said the NSW will increase compliance level and see to efficient and productive use of resources, facilitate enhanced fee, duties and penalties’ collection.

“ It will institutionalise more comprehensive, streamlined and automated business compliance to government legislative and regulatory requirements. It will also enhance risk analysis, management and improve security.

“There will be reduction in corruption and illegal trade activities, enhanced transparency and accountability. It will equally bring more trader-friendly environment, leading to increased foreign investment, integration and timely flow of information between government agencies and improved business intelligence,” Aladejobi said.

Alaka said, for importers and exporters, there will be cost reductions through minimised clerical efforts, time spent will reduce and eliminate delays. “There will be more predictable, reliable and authoritative decisions, just as there will be faster goods clearance, exceptional handling and dispute resolution, leading to reduced inventory holding costs.

“Also, there will be predictable and reliable consignment clearance and availability of advanced goods release information and reduction in face-to-face meetings, greater transparency and reduced opportunities for rent seeking and corruption.”

A clearing agent, Mr Segun Ogunsanu said the NSW will facilitate faster movement of goods through formalities and trade junctions, leading to better and more productive utilisation of resources.

“There will also be reliable information on timing of goods movement, allowing accurate scheduling, allocation of resources and improved accuracy of information provided to clients; more productive and flexible use of human resources; and ability to accurately schedule goods collection and discharge times and locations. There will also be a better end-to-end audit of port operation,” Ogunsanu said.

Also, the former President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ( ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, said the NSW will lead to automated container bay planning and status systems, port community access and information systems, container track and trace (across the various individual port community systems), goods release note (GRN) systems, transport booking and gate management systems.

“An additional ICT port management system that usually deals with vessel call book and bill and berth reservation and preparations will be enhanced. The most sophisticated of these port systems are integrated with the formalities of the SW so as to provide an end-to-end formalities and cargo movement system. This integrated system is called the national single window,” he added.

“The SW was designed to be the single information technology clearing house for all trade-related regulatory and compliance data. These include importer’s customs declarations, supporting documentation, import and export licences and certificates of origin.

“Shipping services are usually separate port systems that handle vessel arrival and departure operations, including pilotage, berth allocation, arrival/voyage booking and billing, and the various certificates and ship papers covering vessel and crew, and non-cargo contents of the vessel.

“Cargo movement refers to bulk, general cargo and container handling, labour (stevedores), container storage, physical inspection facilities for containers and customs, where necessary, gate management, transport booking and road/rail onwards transport are put in place,” Shittu said.

According to him, if these systems are linked together into a total port community system, it becomes possible for goods’ owners, freight forwarders and other legitimately interested parties, to track and trace cargo through the complete port system, from arrival to departure and vice versa.

“The port SW, as championed by the NPA, is a significant tool for efficiencies, speed of cargo movement and vessel turn-around, and hence for significant revenue generation,” Shittu added.

An exporter, Mr Chris Christopher, said the NSW is a laudable initiative, which a country like Nigeria should embrace to transform the ports.

’We are aware that the current management of the NPA is not happy over the past failure of 48-hour cargo clearance policy. Apart from the fact that the delays experienced in cargo clearance disrupts the production schedules of manufacturers as raw materials are not delivered in good time to their factories, they affect their revenue and are responsible for high level of corruption at the ports as importers struggle to clear their cargoes under harsh condition. This, again exacerbates inflation as goods are not quickly cleared from the ports to meet relevant needs in the economy and that is why the need for a national single window is imperative,”Christopher said.

To him, the Federal Government needs to have the political will to introduce the National Single Window platform to reduce costs and increase the compliance level of importers and exporters.

’The benefits of the single window platform at the ports are immense, because on a micro level, it will boost the competitive advantage of our ports and its traders on the international markets, while increasing government’s revenue, boost foreign direct investment, introduce simpler, faster clearance, and release processes,” he said.

Government’s attention on the SW, the exporter said, should be on reducing time and cost of doing business at ports; simplification and automation of ports operations, and reducing the human interface and increasing transparency among others when the government finally decides to unveil the national single window.
Source: The Nation

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