Clearing goods at Nigerian ports requires 79 signatures – Report

Port LagosToju Vincent 16 August 2013, Sweetcrude, Lagos – More facts are emerging as to why the cost of doing business at Nigerian seaports has remained high seven years after the Federal Government’s port reform programme.

A Corruption Risk Assessment, CRA, report released by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption, TUGAR, and the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, with the support of United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, on Nigerian ports has revealed that an importer or agent will require a minimum of 79 signatures of government officials to clear his/her goods at the nation’s gateways.

This mind-boggling revelation came to the fore last when the ICPC, TUGAR and BPP met with stakeholders in the maritime industry in Apapa, Lagos, to validate the CRA report.

One of the consultants to the CRA study who presented the report to stakeholders at the validation meeting, Constantine Palicarsky, also identified lack of standard operation procedure by government agencies as a major hindrance to port operations thus giving rise to corruption in the system.

“It takes 79 signatures to process a cargo in some ports, while in other ports it takes up to 100 signatures.

This shows that the process is not harmonised giving rise to corruption,” he observed. Palicarsky also identified rationalisation as one of the reasons why corruption persists at the ports, saying that people rationalize corrupt practices, giving excuses why they should not be held culpable.

“If we cannot address rationalization, we cannot address corruption,” he told the stakeholders comprising of representatives of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, Standards Organization of Nigeria, SON, National Agency for Food & Drug Administration Control, NAFDAC, and freight forwarders among others.

He also identified ineffective administrative practices and weak institutions as major causes of corruption in the nation’s ports.
Other causes of corruption in the system, according to the report, include: widespread poverty with over 70 per cent of Nigerians living below poverty line, serious security problems and lack of independent institution where corruption occurring in the ports can be reported.

The report also identified huge discretionary powers enjoyed and exercised by officials of government agencies as a major source of corrupt practices at the ports.

Palicarsky noted that the CRA findings confirmed that government officials in the port not only enjoy huge discretionary powers but are also able to delay indefinitely the required signing of documents without consequence.

Chairman of the ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta, in his address at the event, said that the effort of his commission, aimed at battling corruption at the nation’s seaport, should not be misconstrued for a scheme to join the multitude of government agencies constituting nuisance in the cargo clearance process.

He said the validation meeting was aimed at bringing together stakeholders and port operators to make input and validate the findings of the assessment report conducted by the three bodies.

The ICPC boss also told stakeholders that the Commission has been empowered to seize property acquired through ill-gotten wealth.

He said such property would be seized by issuing a gazette notice demanding the source of income from the owners.

The CRA, conducted in six major Nigerian ports including the Lagos Port Complex, LPC, Apapa, Tincan Island Port, Port Harcourt Port, Onne Port, Warri Port and Calabar Port is a prevention tool which interrogates processes and procedures in a given system as well as identify areas which are vulnerable to corruption with a view to providing recommendations.

The ICPC boss said that the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, MACN, had identified Nigeria as one of the countries with corruption prone-systems in the port sector.

This, he said, led to the selection of Nigerian ports for a pilot CRA.

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