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Wednesday, 1.04.2020
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At various fora across the country last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and chief executive officers of government agencies in the maritime sector restated the Federal Government’s plan to establish a national single window (NSW) at the ports to facilitate clearance and export of goods. Oluwakemi Dauda examines some of the issues inhibiting the implementation of the NSW and efforts aimed at tackling them.

Despite promises made by the Federal Government last year and the previous one, Nigeria remains the only country without a single-window platform in Africa in an age where information technology drives every process. The country has continued to trail behind other African nations in the automation of processes at the seaports.

Stakeholders said 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 by the President Muhamadu Buhari-led administration based on its diversification efforts to boost the economy.

The stakeholders, who spoke in separate interviews with The Nation, were unanimous that one of the steps that must be taken to quicken cargo clearance and realise the diversification agenda is the single window system.

One of the stakeholders, Samson Atanda, said: “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.

He lamented that Nigeria is the only country in Africa without a single window platform. In 2018, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi promised to set up a National Single Window platform to be managed by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). It was to be funded from the one per cent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme. But up till today, the promise has not been fulfilled.

Atanda lamented that this had resulted in Nigerian-bound vessels being diverted to Benin Republic, Ghana and other neighbouring ports because of the intractable traffic in Apapa and unnecessary delays during cargo clearance at the ports.

The maritime lawyer recommended that the policy on single window on the clearing of goods should be fully implemented to discourage physical examination of cargo by men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

Lack of implementation of a single window platform is reportedly costing Nigeria N1.08 trillion revenue yearly.

“As of 2017, Ghana had commenced the registration of vehicles doing business at its port in preparation for full automation of the processes this year.

“In January last year, the port welcomed a $1.5 billion fully-automated terminal jointly built by the APM Terminals, Bolloré Africa Logistics, Meridian Port Services and the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority,” Atanda said, adding that the expanded port could accommodate the world’s largest container ships in their breakwater and access channel. Like Ghana, other ports in Africa have automated their processes, making clearing faster and easier.

Atanda said if the Federal Government can put the NSW in place, Nigerians who patronise other African ports would return to the ports by the time the land borders were reopened.

At the opening ceremony of the 2018 Lagos International Trade Fair, Buhari, represented by Prof Yemi 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.

The Single Window

A single window is an organic mixture of parties in a nation’s international trade. 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.

Why scheme is delayed

Speaking at the Trade Fair forum in Lagos, Osinbajo said the scheme was 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 firms and other government agencies at ports and border stations trying to align their various e-platforms to the NSW platform.

The Vice President (VP), however, expressed optimism on the delivery of the promise by the government in the shortest possible time.

Commitment from govt, stakeholders

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

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

A clearing agent, Kayode Ogunsanu, 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 port a hub of maritime in Africa,” Ogunsanu 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 challenges with import and export procedures, which the VP said the NSW would address.

Efforts by the FIRS

Tax payments and remittances have also been simplified through the e-filing system by the Federal Inland Revenue System (FIRS), 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. Since 2016, the Federal Government had so far in the past three budget cycles spent over N3.5 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 last year, the Director-General, 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. A global bench-marking study 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 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 administration has the vision and determination to make the ports, the hub of maritime in the West and Central Africa through the introduction of a national single window, provision of maritime security, improvement in port infrastructure, formulation and implementation of other laudable programmes.

Peterside, 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 would ensure that the seaports provide adequate capacity to meet the demands of key shipping lines and their alliance partners in sizeable blocks of volume.

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

Nigeria’s strategic vision for its ports, he said, is 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 investing in the development of port infrastructure and technology to boost efficiency and economy.

The Federal Government, the NIMASA boss revealed, is emulating Singapore and other maritime nations in terms of short, medium and long-term planning that will assist the ports to compete favourably with others across the globe, urging 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 parts of efforts to make the 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 could invest in their programmes the way the World Bank and other financial institutions did for Singapore in 1972.

Paucity of fund, according to him, should not affect the growth of the sector on the continent.

Many stakeholders who spoke with The Nation believe that it would 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.”

Merits 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.”

Ogunsanu also 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.

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,” Ogunsanu said.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Oluwakemi Dauda

Quelle/Source: The Nation Newspaper, 21.01.2020

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