There is a rising anger among some ship owners over the planned disbursement of the Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds( CVFF).
The aggrieved ship owners were said to be disenchanted with the unending controversy that has dogged the interventionist funds that has stalled its disbursement since its inception in 2004.
It would be recalled that the funds, which is the offshoot of the Cabotage regime of 2003, is the contributions of two per cent of Cabotage contracts by ship owners.
Since its inception, the disbursement of the accruals,which had also been a subject of speculations, has been mired in controversy and official deception.
However, after series of failed promises for which the expected beneficiaries have become wary and disgruntled, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, promised that the funds will be disbursed this year for which the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency ( NIMASA) is currently midwifing its process.
However , some angry stakeholders, especially those whose businesses have gone under due to the undue delay to disburse the funds, are gearing up to tackle the Minister and NIMASA in the court of law.
Their intention is to preempt the outcome of the disbursement process which they claimed may not favour them.
Our correspondent gathered that since most of them have lost their businesses to the harsh economic climate in the country and to what they described as insensitivity of government to their plight, they claimed that the current guidelines for the disbursement of the funds may not favour them.
Some of us contributed to the funds when our businesses were still thriving.
“But now that our businesses are no longer active, that we don’t have vessels, we feared that the present arrangement may exclude us from accessing the funds.
“If there is any better time we need this funds, this is the time but we are not convinced of the transparent nature of the new guidelines as may be set by Ameachi”
They vowed that they will challenge any process which excludes them from accessing the funds due to their present parlous state of businesses.
“Some of us were shortlisted for the funds during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
“But now that Amaechi has decided to do away with the process that produced us, we shall resist any attempt to be shut out in the new process” the aggrieved stakeholders declared.
Meanwhile, some maritime experts have condemned the unconfirmed claims that government may divert the Cabotage funds to other uses.
It was being speculated that the funds may be used to establish maritime bank while another unsubstantiated source said it may be used to buy vessels for the ship owners rather than disbursement.
A maritime Lawyer, Chief Mike Igbokwe said it’ll be unconstitutional and illegal to use CVFF to establish a maritime bank.
He explained that shipowners contribution of the money in CVFF started since 2003, and stressed it was time for government to use the funds for the purpose for which it was established.
“We need to follow the provisions of the constitution and the Cabotage Act in the disbursement of the fund”.
“According to section 80 of the constitution, public funds that were for specific purposes are not paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and the CVFF is one of the special purpose funds. The government must use it for that purpose, ”he said.
>On the call in some quarters for the establishment of a Maritime Bank with the CVFF, he noted that for such to be achieved Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) must go back to the National Assembly to amend the Cabotage Act because Maritime Bank was not one of the purposes for establishing the CVFF.
According to him; “Government must not divert the CVFF because it would be invalid, unconstitutional; and illegal to use CVFF for maritime bank”.
Responding to the disbursement issue, a member of the CVFF guideline Drafting Committee, Ms. Margret Orakwusi said there was need for the committee in drafting the guideline, to be specific on the interest rate, duration of the loan and the category of vessels to be acquired using the fund so that the funds won’t be misused.
“We need to be specific on the interest rate, duration of the loan by determining if it’s going to be two, five or seven years. We also need to specify the category of vessels that would be acquired because it would be abnormal that when the fund is released, it would be used to buy something that was irrelevant”.
“These were the things that would be looked for to ensure that we have enough coverage and protection in the guideline, ”Orakwusi said.
Known for her advocacy for setting up of maritime bank with CVFF monies because as a specialised area, borrowing from the commercial bank with the commercial interest rate would not be easy for shipowners to survive.
According to her; “Shipping is an international business and we are competing with people whose funds are highly subsidised”.
“Foreign ship owners get loans with interest rate that is as low as 2 percent, and can take a very long period to pay back”.
Another maritime Lawyer, Mr. Chidi
Ilogu, however, predicted that ship owners may have to wait for another six months before the commencement of the disbursement of the fund as against the earlier scheduled date in January.
It would be recalled that the disappointment of not disbursing after raising ship-owners hope and dashing it is as old as the setting up of CVFF itself.
Many are also ascribing the disbursement failures to the inability of Nigerian shipowners to come under one umbrella towards accessing the fund.
Former NIMASA Director Generals, Mr. Temisan Omatseye and Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi during their respective tenures initiated moves on CVFF disbursement but never saw the light of the day.
In October 2009 during a press briefing the then Minister of Transportation, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio directed that the over N14 billion generated by the CVFF, be disbursed to indigenous ship owners before December of that year.
He also announced that modalities were in place for the disbursement of the fund towards boosting indigenous shipping. After several months, no disbursement took place of which the failure was blamed on the complexity of the process.
Under Akpobolokemi era, NIMASA, according to him; was only awaiting approval from the then Minister of Transport, Mr. Idris Umar.
While preparing for the disbursement, notices were sent out to Nigerian ship owners under the auspices of the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) and the notice also spelt out guidelines for the disbursement; specifying that a loan of not more than $25 million could be applied for by verifiable ship owners, ship agents and fully established companies with the ability to charter vessels but at the end, it was not disbursed and no reason was given by the government or its agencies over non disbursement.
With the past staring everyone on the face, it remains to be seen if the disbursement will ever take place or will the present administration break the jinx?
>The maritime world watches with its fingers crossed.
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