*Seeks Forensic Audit
Veteran journalist and the doyen of maritime reporting, Elder Asu Beks has stated that the Minister of Transportation, Right Hon. Rotimi Amaechi is frustrating the disbursement of the much awaited multi-billion Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF).
While maintaining that Amaechi who has spent over 20 unbroken years in government since the advent of democracy in Nigeria has no reason not to disburse the fund, he argued that the purpose for which it was established has not been achieved over the years.
Speaking recently as a guest on a radio programme “View Point” monitored by Maritime Bits, Beks who is also the initiator of the very popular Maritime Elders Forum and Publisher, Shipping World magazine noted that the CVFF is a fund contributed by Nigerian ship owners meant to grow indigenous capacity has not created the desired impact.
Beks who is one of the respected voices in the maritime sector of the economy expressed dismay that 17-years after its establishment, neither Amaechi nor the management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has made public the exact amount that has accrued into the fund or how it has been spent.
Maritime Bits had reported that the secrecy surrounding how much has accrued into the fund so far had set tongues wagging in many quarters including a yet-to-be refuted report that part of it was diverted for the 2019 presidential elections.
Already, the absence of accountability in the CVFF has left qualified Nigerian ship owners frustrated in the face of the downturn in the economy and the fierce competition from foreign ship owners.
While calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to launch a forensic audit into the CVFF to determine the exact amount that has so far accrued into it so far, he revealed that the management of NIMASA has sent names of eleven commercial banks to Amaechi but he is yet to nominate four of them as required for the disbursement to start.
The Cabotage Act came into force 2004 when the Rivers State born medical doctor turn politician Dr. Abiye Sekibo was the Minister of Transportation. It was meant to grow local content among Nigerian ship owners and crew.
However, for 17 years, the CVFF is being collected in the United States of America (USA) Dollars has not been disbursed as successive administration in NIMASA has continued to give excuses why it could not disburse the fund to qualified Nigerian ship owners.
Beks however berated the authorities for paying lip service on the disbursement of the funds over the years.
His words: “The number of Nigerian vessels in Cabotage register is not encouraging at all. The CVFF does not belong to the Federal Government It is a contribution by the ship owners meant to grow their business. When Jamoh came into office, he assured that before the end of 2020, the money would be distributed. Part of the problem is the overbearing influence of the supervising Ministry to Transportation. Shipowners have on many occasions engaged the current minister, Right Hon. Rotimi Amaechi. They do not seem to have confidence in his willingness to disburse the fund”
“In Nigeria political system, people want to create empires for themselves, but the fact is that we are killing our maritime sector. When Covid-19 pandemic came, we saw interventions from the various sectors of the economy for businesses, including the aviation sector, but we did not see a single intervention from the maritime sector”
Apparently appalled by the development, Beks said: “Some of us felt that it was an opportunity for the Minister to fast track disbursement of the CVFF, but as we speak, NIMASA management has sent names of 11 banks to the minister. He should please nominate 4 out of the names sent to him so that disbursement can commence. The Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh of NIMASA is already feeling frustrated because he came with a mindset of disbursing the fund. We should not even blame Buhari for the lack of disbursement. It is the fault of Rotimi Amaechi.
“He is the only Minister that has lasted six years in office unlike the others that lasted just two or three years. He is lucky to be cruising towards 8 years in office. Therefore, he has no excuse not to disburse the fund. Otherwise, we would go to the President and demand for a Minister of Maritime Affairs. Let Rotimi Amaechi face aviation.”
While lauding Amaechi for what he called “an excellent job| in the Nigerian rail sector, he berated him for undermining the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki whom he had earlier announced would be in charge of maritime sector of the economy and the parasatals under it.
“We need to carry out a forensic audit of the CVFF fund to know the actual money that has been collected in the past 17-years. The Local Content Law has raked over $800 million in 2019 alone, but anytime we inquire about the figures in CVFF from the Ministry, the only figure we hear is $200 million”, he added.
According to him, the Nigerian ship owners should address the infighting amongst them, so as not to give government excuses of not disbursing the CVFF. The Nigerian ship owners should be allowed to pick members of implementation committee of CVFF, and not the Minister to handpick them.
As a way out of the myriads of challenges plaguing the maritime sector of the economy, Beks averred that NIMASA as the lead maritime agency should have a level of autonomy like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) enjoys under the Ministry of Finance without the overbearing influence of the ministry and the minister.