Last week Thursday, December 12th, 2019, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, at a public function in Lagos, said President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) in January 2020.
If Amaechi had expected the stakeholders, especially the distraught ship owners, to applaud and jump up for joy for an obviously good news, he must be mistaken.
To many of them, who have apparently grown weary of the long wait for the disbursement of the controversial funds, the announcement was nothing more than a hollow ritual of failed promise which they have grown accustomed to hearing from the Minister.
Since 2004 when the scheme was established , no single Shipowner had benefitted from the funds which actual accrual has been subject of controversy.
Despite subjecting intending beneficiaries to the stringent guidelines for disbursement, the funds has been subjected to serial abuses, delays and denials.
Between Dakuku Peterside, the incumbent DG, NIMASA and Rotimi Amaechi, the supervising minister of Transportation, they have built a thick wall of secrecy around the CVFF, subjecting the stakeholders to an endless and frustrating wait.
Dakuku had on several occasions raised the hope of the operators when he promised to disburse the funds.
Soon after, in December 2017, Minister pointedly told the dejected ship owners that as long as he remained in charge as a minister, the funds would not be disbursed, citing several excuses.
Yet again in 2018, the same minister declared that government was ready to disburse the funds after the long-existing guidelines must have been reviewed.
Expectedly, the already distraught indigenous ship-owners, who have grown weary of the delay tactics of government over the disbursement, understandably became disgusted and turned to an alternative source of funds to stay afloat.
Within a relatively short period, the few existing ship owners got succour from the Nigerian Content Development Council which made available $200 million through the Bank of Industry from the one percent contributions made by the shipping owners.
The quick and seamless disbursement of the same scheme by the NCB lays bares the hypocrisy and insincerity of the custodians of the CVFF, given the fact that both funds were domiciled in the Treasury Single Account (TSA), which is one of the numerous excuses NIMASA and its supervising ministry has been attributing to the delay in disbursement.
One can then imagine the amusement of stakeholders when the Minister said the funds would be disbursed in about one month from now.
We are equally puzzled by the sudden change in the mood of the minister who had just last year vowed that as long as he remained the Minister, the funds would not be disbursed.
We understand the apparent lack of emotions by stakeholders at the promise of the minister.
They may be excused if they feel non-pulsed at what should naturally be a piece of cheering news due to the long unfulfilled promises of the Minister.
Apparently, the stakeholders have lost faith in the Cabotage Funds and their trust in the minister to work his talk is abysmally low.
We share their sentiments given the series of denials the stakeholders have been serially subjected to in past years.
When the Minister said the disbursement of the funds will commence in January 2020, does it mean the beneficiaries have already emerged, what is left is to hand the largesse to them?
Or does it mean that the selection process for the disbursement will earnestly commence in January?
On what set of guidelines will the January beneficiaries be picked or were picked since the former set of rules which we consider stringent enough that later produced six beneficiaries from the over 100 applicants were discredited and discarded by the Minister?
There are many questions begging for answers to help us understand how the Minister arrived at his January disbursement date.
For us, the promise of the disbursement date was hastily made which leaves more to be desired as it rests on no prior arrangement.
There was no structured sequence of events that could have conveniently made the Minister arrive at that disbursement date.
Since the initial guidelines have been thrown overboard by the Minister, we are not aware of any other alternative guidelines for the selection process on which the new date was premised.
Neither are we in the know whether the old guidelines have been reviewed as promised by the Minister.
Except the selection of the would-be beneficiaries was shrouded in secrecy or the old guidelines which produced the six shortlisted beneficiaries who were later denied the funds have now been revalidated and adopted or the whole new selection process will begin in January, it is difficult to place a bet on how sacrosanct the January date could be.
Except the Minister springs a surprise by keeping his promise this time on the disbursement of the Cabotage Funds, the already battered morale of indigenous ship owners would have once again been subjected to another fatal dent.
It is however needless to point out the huge relief the eventual disbursement of the funds would have on the hapless indigenous ship-owners, most of whose businesses have gone under.
We, therefore, urge the Minister to bater down the thick wall of mystery and secrecy which has been built around the CVFF disbursement for which the indigenous ship owners have become disenchanted and irritated.
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