HMOT, Freight Forwarders and POF (1)
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
The Honourable Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is a critical appendage of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, not merely on account of being the transportation minister, but as one of the earliest loyalist of the Buhari Change Mantra.
Thus it can safely be stated that he is key in the present government. To be fair, Amaechi inherited a voodoo, outlandish, ill crafted and almost self serving Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) with an equally parlous industry composition. As the youngest arm of the ministry, its conception followed a contrived political permutation, soaked in unrefined-able crude maneuverings that was bound to erupt its rotten kernel unless steps were taken sincerely and objectively to correct the defaults.
In its moral apparel, CRFFN which was initiated as a professional body and which bill was designed to cater principally for practitioners’ professional capacity building; caved in during the formation and legislative bargaining into a negotiated oracle of self defeatist, the moment it was exposed to the idea of federal superannuation funding.
The Bill died and a Council emerged. But the Council also suffered the defects of unrelated and strange structural marriage, covering political, economic and revenue matters. In time, membership election into the Governing Council Board was premised on the lever of being part driver of the critical, adjutant Professional Operating Fee (POF); as also the key nexus to the Council’s operability.
There is no gainsaying that presently, the POF not only assumed the most important component of the Council, but indeed as its engine room of growth, where practitioners scheme to belong, like civil servants struggle to be at the key revenue operational departments.
As things stand, even the federal government have become unusually enamoured about freight forwarders POF, which has already become a frenzied apparatus in budget and national planning.
However, the POF has not only become attractive, it has turned out to be the most problematic of the Council’s defects; and therefore a moral challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari government. The POF is steeped in muddy cast; in which people with narrow motives are angling to be indirectly in control.
Unfortunately, Amaechi without sufficiently studying the key elements joined the bandwagon, which immediately sucked him into the circle of freight forwarding cartel, and into the mire of ‘anything goes’, where membership of the Governing Council Board are in a race, alongside government officials, to become principal drivers of POF as the emerging commodity of trade.
Only two days ago, the NASS Joint Committee on Land and Marine Transport in an unusually gregarious manner literally espoused the budget presentation of the Minister of Transportation, and urged him to expedite the collection of POF, noting that government needs money.
While Amaechi presented N147, 931,691,294 2022 budget for his ministry, he outlined a whooping N10billion revenue estimate for CRFFN through imposition of fees on imports.
Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman Senate Committee who appeared very agreeable and convivial with the budget estimate of the transportation minister said all eyes would be on the revenue due from CRFFN.
He said, “The Committee would continue to extend all the necessary support needed for the maritime sector to boost their revenue generation and increase their revenue drive into the federation account through the collected revenue.
“The bottom line is that the government needs money and this agency under the ministry of transportation is the key revenue generating agency. I want to urge you to double your efforts, we are going to ensure that you increase your revenue generating efforts so as to bring more money into the federation account”
Neither Goje nor any of the committee members said anything about the trouble the collection of POF is posing, they made no pretension to knowing that there have been issues; they are only interested in revenue collection and the freight forwarders POF was the new goldmine, irrespective of whatever issues there might be.
The executive arm of government is as obsessed about POF as the legislative arm of government. In 2020, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainub Ahmed approved the collection of POF with a demand for freight forwarders to show receipt of payments before they can exit cargo.
Above official attitude sadly characterize the larger failings noticeable in our revenue system; which we don’t appear to have the genuine desire to address. Under the POF regime, importers are expected to pay N3.50 per ton of import, N1.50 per kilo of air cargo, N1000 on every 20ft container import and N2000 per container of imported cargo.
Nevertheless, government permutations can only work efficiently only if POF is properly driven through transparent, accountable and acceptable collection process or machinery. Government should desist from creating avenue for individuals to continue to steal and corrupt the revenue system.
Currently, one cannot rule away concern that POF collection under private arrangement is untidy and inefficient. Juxtaposed with a federal system where revenue collections are administered under the treasury single account (TSA) policy, encapsulating revenue collection by Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigerian Ports Authority, National Inland Waterways, Nigerian railway Corporation etc; one wonders why CRFFN POF is an exception.
It is also particularly worrisome that the Transportation Minister has chosen to look away from this important system default, which is currently creating an atmosphere of gang war between freight forwarders; the war to be part of the POF collection machinery.
This war has effectively stalemated the Governing Council Board election, where various actors have mobilized into the trench and even issuing threats, which has seemingly scared Amaechi and the ministry’s top functionary into silence.
It is unacceptable that a minister of the federal republic should continue to pander to the narrow interests of industry operators as Amaechi have openly demonstrated in the aftermath of the controversial 6:6:1:1:1 sharing formula.
Where the transportation minister is afraid and unwilling to play by the CRFFN rule, which should include sanitizing the POF collection process by linking it with TSA, the presidency through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation should possibly wade in and direct as necessary.
Revenue collection is a serious government business that should not be left in the hands of a cabal. There is no sincere reason POF should remain stuck in the rudimentary and primitive stage of collection when this present government has in place a highly regulated, functional and fairly transparent revenue administration system.