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By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau chief
ABUJA - The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday, explained the delay in forwarding the 2012 budget to the National Assembly, saying the executive was consulting with the legislators and did not want to rush the budget.

Speaking at the inauguration of a Ports Reform Monitoring Committee, in Abuja, she said: 'We have to do a lot of consultation with the National Assembly. We have to give room for questions. We don't want to rush the budget.'

On when Nigerians should expect the budget to be submitted to the legislature, she said: 'It is a collaborated process with the National Assembly. That is why I don't want to give any specific date.'

Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The minister assured, however, that the issue of oil revenue benchmark (which was reduced from $75 per barrel to $70 per) had been concluded and, therefore, won't require a re-visit.

She assured that the executive was working hard to come up with an Appropriation Bill that could be easily passed as the main issues would have been collectively ironed out with the law makers before its submission.

The ports reform monitoring committee which has the Special Adviser to the President, Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, Prof. Sylvester Monye as Chairman has been mandated to disband the Nigerian Customs Task Force, with immediate effect.

Similarly, the Monye committee is to reduce the number of agencies working at the ports from the current 14 to five, within two weeks.

Okonjo-Iweala noted that operations of the nation's ports over the years had been 'associated with inefficiency and corruption, due largely to poor infrastructure, poor work ethics by all agencies at the ports, as well as multiplicity of agencies at the ports.'

According to her, 'these agencies, through their daily activities have made business at the ports very unfriendly as they cause delay in clearing of goods which ultimately add to the cost of importation'.

With the work of the committee which swings into action immediately, the three most important agencies at the ports, Customs, shipping lines and terminal operators, would hence be arranged to work on shift bases for 24 hours daily.

In the immediate, the committee was also mandated to ensure that, terminal operators must be given a one-day deadline to position cargo for clearance or else forego demurrage charges.

In order to tackle the problem of inadequate infrastructure at the ports, the minister directed that the Nigerian Ports Authority should commence works towards providing rail lines within ports' premises and cargo handling machines within 12 months.

The committee was also mandated to a strategy for effective use of Empty/Cargo Container where the Bonded Container Terminals would play important roles.

Prof. Monye and his team have also been asked to ensure the enforcement of signed agreement in respect of provision of fixed scanning machines in the ports where they remain most relevant.

Dr. okonjo-Iweala equally tasked the committee to set in motion the modalities for building rail lines from the ports in the south up country, through a collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Transport; as well as, proper dredging of the Warri and Calabar ports to ensure deep see ports in the two coastal towns.

The minister did not give any time frame within which the committee would conclude its assignment, saying 'the lifespan of the committee will last as long as the ports are not working', adding however, that it could take up to 24 months.

The Monye Committee consisted mainly of members of the Organised Private Sector, including: Mr. Cosmas Maduka, Coscharis Group; Engr Wolfgang Goetsch, Julis Berger; Alh. Olayiwola Shittu, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents; Mrs. Uju Ifejika, Britania; Mr. Leon Stan Ekeh, Zinox Computers and Florence Seriki of Omatek Computers, amongst others.