Efforts by management of the Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Shippers Council to stop the Port Terminal Operators Limited in Port Harcourt from raising port charges fell on deaf ears, as the terminal last week announced increment in the charges.
It would be recalled that NPA, acting on petitions and pleas of shippers and freight forwarders, had in late May summoned concerned stakeholders to a meeting where it was decided that PTOL reverse to the old rates. The organisation reportedly complied.
Financial Street reliably gathered that on Tuesday, June 6, the PTOL management surprisingly reintroduced invoices bearing exorbitant rates to the surprise of importers and customs agents, a development that allegedly led to a temporary suspension of berthing meetings by key shipping stakeholders in the port.
Consequently, goods worth billions of naira may have been stranded in the terminal since big players such as Dangote, Dufil, Royal Salt and BUA are frequent users of the port.
A shipping agent, who pleaded anonymity, said that the new rates not only violate laid down rules of engagement and stipulated yearly percentage increment, but is an abuse of trust that may lead to importers diverting their vessels or cargo elsewhere.
“How do you want people to survive or cope with the resultant increment in cost of goods and service that this increment will portend? PTOL suddenly changed a bill of N6m to close to N50m for me, is that not some 900 per cent raise?”
“The same thing goes for other massive bulk cargo importers. With naira depreciating daily, you now add these exorbitant charges plus the new official exchange rate by the Nigeria Customs Service. Things will certainly not augur well for both the rich and the poor, and the economy that is already weak. If care is not taken, most importers might dump PTOL and return to Lagos,” the agent said.
According to the source, the PTOL’s inability to improve on infrastructure in the port doesn’t support the movement for an increment, even as he wondered why the terminal could not respect the NPA, its landlord, and NSC, the port economic regulator.
In a recent memo, the NSC warned that the review of port-handling charges would be done on a port-by-port performance basis, and not unilaterally by the port operators.
According to the memo, “Unilateral increase in charges/introduction of the new tariff headings and charges constitute a direct disregard of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Local Shipping Charges on Import and Export) Regulation 1997 and Nigerian Shippers’ Council (Port Economic) Regulations 2015.
Consequently, all service providers are by this notice reminded that: Review of charges/introduction of new tariffs headings and charges shall be subject to the guidelines provided by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson of PTOL, Mrs Justina Godwin, argued that it is ridiculous to allege that the management had increased charges by 900 percent.
“This is not true at all. We only increased charges by five per cent, whereas others have increased by much more. We even cancelled arrears. Please endeavour to come here and verify by yourself. We don’t work in isolation; we work in respect to government’s laid down rules,” she said.
She, however, admitted that stevedoring charges per tonnage was increased, which may add to lump sums for large volume importers.
Reacting to the issue, the President of the National Association of Government-Approved Freight Forwarders, Increase Uche, said a 900 per cent increase in handling charges by PTOL could not be true. He said he was aware that PTOL and other terminals in seaports around the country had submitted a review proposal in their handling charges to the NSC, to which the council was yet to give its nod.
Uche stressed that the PTOL and others, for many years, had not increased their charges and doing so now could be justified considering a constant rise in the costs of handling equipment, electricity bill, labour salaries/wages and other production factors.
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