On Thursday, December 12th, 2019, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, at a public function in Lagos, said President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) in January 2020.
Nigeriamaritime360.com at the time expressed doubt over the timely execution of the approval not for anything, but because one needs no soothsayer to know that the approval if anything could be an ordinary carrot to impress the stakeholders.
We said at the time time that 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 had 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.
If one goes down the memory lane since 2004 when the scheme was established , no single Shipowner had benefited from the fund which actual accrual had been subject of controversy.
Despite subjecting intending beneficiaries to the stringent guidelines for disbursement, the funds had been subjected to serial abuses, delays and denials.
Between the immediate past NIMASA DG, Dakuku Peterside, and Rotimi Amaechi, the supervising minister of Transportation, had built a thick wall of secrecy around the CVFF, subjecting the stakeholders to an endless and frustrating wait.
Dakuku had on several occasions then, raised the hope of the operators when he promised to disburse the funds.
Soon after, in December 2017, the 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 had 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 bare 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 had been attributing to the delay in disbursement.
One could then imagine the amusement of stakeholders when the Minister said the funds would be disbursed in January 2020, about five months ago now!
We were equally puzzled by the sudden change in the mood of the minister who had just earlier last year vowed that as long as he remained the Minister, the funds would not be disbursed.
We understood 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 shared 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 would commence in January 2020, we wondered if the beneficiaries had already emerged and if what was left was to hand the largesse to them?
Or was it that the selection process for the disbursement would earnestly commence in January?
On what set of guidelines would the January beneficiaries have been picked or were picked since the former set of rules which we considered stringent enough that later produced six beneficiaries from the over 100 applicants were discredited and discarded by the Minister?
There were many questions begging for answers to help us understand how the Minister in December arrived at his January disbursement date.
For us, the promise of the disbursement date was hastily made which left more to be desired as it rested 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 had been thrown overboard by the Minister, we were 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 had 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 had on the hapless indigenous ship-owners, most of whose businesses have gone under.
Today, the ravaging COVID-19 has thrown spanner into any process of the unending disbursement promise.
All efforts are now shifted from the Cabotage fund disbursement to the pandemic which the World Health Organisation (WHO), has made us to believe is here to stay but only managed until any cure is found. He epidemic has battered the world economy so much so, that countries are looking for funds to escape the claws of recession.
The longer an issue stays on the drawing board like an African adage goes, the wiser it gets.
As we speak,Amaechi and the present NIMASA DG Dr.Bashir Jamoh, may have many hurdles to cross in the disbursement as there have been many emerging schools of thought on the disbursement of the long delayed Fund.
Some are of the opinion that the fund should not be disbursed to individual stakeholder but rather used to float a maritime Bank which in the end will develop our shipping industry. Some have equally questioned who the real shipowners are or better still who are the real stakeholders?
Can a pioneering contributor to the fund who could boast of more than three ships at the time but now left with none be considered a shipowner ? Many questions that could further delay disbursement now beg for answer.
We, therefore, urge the Minister to bater down the thick wall of mystery which has been built around the CVFF disbursement for which the indigenous ship owners have become disenchanted and irritated.
The time is now, when the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari of which the Honourable Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi, is an arrow head, that is five years in the saddle,to make definitive and indelible impact in maritime, the new “black gold” by taking a final decision and action on Cabotage Fund disbursement.
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