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Hadiza Bala Usman: Battling port rats, potholes, i...

Hadiza Bala Usman: Battling port rats, potholes, insecurity to increase revenue

Hadiza Bala Usman: Battling port rats, potholes, insecurity to increase revenue


SULAIMON OLANREWAJU writes on efforts of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, to transform the narrative of the agency from a cesspit of corruption to a fraud-free revenue earning government agency.
 
The Federal Government is poised to profit immensely from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) given a redirection in the Authority’s policy focus towards a complete elimination of wastage, renewed war on corruption and blocking identifiable revenue loopholes.

To institute a culture of transparency in NPA, the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, shortly after her assumption of office, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BudgIT, a platform administrator that enables an organization to put in the public domain its budgets and financial transactions for the sake of easy tracking and evaluation. With that, NPA became the first revenue-generating agency in the country to subject its budgets and accounts to public scrutiny. This has put other agencies under pressure to follow in her footsteps.

Following in the transparency tradition, while some government agencies were lamenting the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by the government, the NPA wasted no time to comply with the directive. The Authority immediately shut down its accounts with commercial banks and remitted all its funds to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in conformity with the directive of the Federal Government.

Speaking on her stewardship at the NPA, Ms Usman said, “The last one year has been challenging; but we have been able to institute several layers of transparency in our operations. We have also been able to enhance the capacity of our ports. It is a journey, and we are looking to providing more efficiency in port operations within our tenure. I have been challenged by my appointment; it is an opportunity to show the world and Nigerians that a woman is able to deliver on any task given.”

She added that she was determined to grow institutional strength to tackle corruption in the ports with a view to generating more revenues for the government.

She explained that in the course of implementing the TSA, which necessitated that every fund generated must be paid into the federation coffers, she discovered some operational anomalies which revealed huge debts owed NPA by concessionaires and other stakeholders. To tackle this, she set up a committee which investigated and discovered other debts running into billions of naira in 2016 alone. Encouraged by the discovery, she probed further and uncovered  a fraud of N11.23 billion committed through a process whereby some commercial banks in collusion with some officials of the authority hid funds collected as revenue in secret accounts instead of remitting same into the NPA’s Treasury Single Account(TSA) with the CBN. Shortly after, another sum of $24.1 million of NPA revenue which should have been deposited in the Federation Account was found hidden in one of the commercial banks just as another six million Euros was uncovered in separate accounts of two other money deposit banks. Usman added that she is currently on the trail of another sum of $5.4 million which was secretly moved to TSA accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria without any proper clearance from the appropriate authorities.

Stressing her commitment to running a fraud-free NPA, the Managing Director said, “For every corrupt practice that we identify, we forward to the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) to investigate and determine what prosecution process they will embark upon. When we identified a legal concern whereby there is a lack of clarity on the role of government, or a seeming disadvantage foisted on the Nigerian people as a result of a legal ambiguity, we forwarded same to the Attorney General (of the Federation) to provide legal guidance on how we can exit some of these relationships.

“A lot of the corrupt practices that we have identified within the port operation are attributable to certain contractual obligations the NPA has entered into with some entities whereby the federal government is shortchanged. We are working at reviewing such agreements and we are working on terminating as many of such agreements as possible. We have reached out to the relevant agencies and communicated our position on this,” she said, adding that she had also taken headlong the task of collaborating with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transportation to ensure a timely deployment of scanners to the ports, after approvals by the Federal Executive Council. The deployment, she stressed, would further eliminate corrupt practices, ensure efficiency and guarantee easy clearance of cargo at the ports.

Contrary to the widely-held belief that the NPA is a corrupt government agency, Usman is of the view that the perception of a corrupt agency that many have of the NPA has been due to the number of agencies operating at the ports. She added that a system that allows several government agencies in the port, with some of them not having any easily identifiable role to play, cannot claim perfection.

“The role of the NPA primarily is to provide harbour operation and berthing services; we facilitate the entrance of the vessels from the fairway buoy through our channels and offload at the terminals, at that point, other agencies of government take over,” she stated, explaining why she felt compelled to implement the 2011 federal government’s order on the number of agencies that should operate at the ports, an order she stressed was in line with international best practices.

“To further enhance this we are working on introducing the single window platform, an initiative that will reduce the need for physical presence of agencies of government. You don’t need to be there in person to enable you do your job. We are doing this to remove bottlenecks, duplication of data gathering and duplicity of certain functions and remove that one-on-one intervention and interaction with personnel of government. That will facilitate the removal of graft within our system,” she added.

Realising the importance of good roads leading to the ports to the nation’s economic wellbeing, Hadiza Bala Usman decided to find a way to get those in charge to fix the roads. Shortly after her assumption of office, she started making moves to fix the Apapa roads, where containers and tanker and truck drivers have made life a nightmare through devastating traffic gridlocks. The moves saw the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Babtunde Raji Fashola, broker a partnership involving the Dangote Group, Flour Mills of Nigeria and the NPA to fix the road.

Pointing out that there must be a new regime of inter-modal transport system, so as to facilitate the movement of cargo in the ports via rails, instead of only roads, which presently account for the movement of 70 per cent of cargoes, Usman has embarked on both long and short term solution: the introduction of electronic call up system.

“We are introducing electronic call up system to regulate the movement of tankers. Importers prefer to come to Lagos ports because the access roads from Lagos to the hinterlands are better than what we have in the Eastern parts of the country. We have notified the Ministry of Works on the need to address this to fast track the evacuation of cargo and reduce the burden on Lagos roads,” she stated.

As soon as the efforts to fix the roads started yielding results, the NPA Managing Director went into a new collaboration with the Nigerian Navy to  ensure the safety and security of not only visiting foreign vessels to the nation’s ports, but also for true protection of barges when they join the inter modal transport regime.

“With this collaboration, I have no doubt in my mind that NPA will become more effective and efficient in carrying out its responsibilities,” Ms Usman noted, adding that, “The collaboration will also open new frontiers for NPA, especially in security and conducive environment for maritime activities.”

The Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok Ekwe Ibas, totally agreed with her as he noted the NPA – Nigerian Navy collaboration was bound to positively affect the Navy, pointing out that the Navy was carved out of the NPA.

“With your support, NN would continue to secure the maritime domain better for seafarers and other stakeholders to have an enabling environment for their activities,” Ibas said while thanking the NPA for assisting the Navy to function more relevantly.

Tags: NPA , Hadiza, CBN , Chief of Naval Staff
Source:www.tribuneonlineng.com

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