Lockdown Waiver: Submit proof of payment, get refund, NPA charges agents

Usman

  • ANLCA drops strike, NAGAFF dissociates from action

All aggrieved clearing agents allegedly compelled by terminal operators to pay demurrage and storage charges during the Federal Government’s 27-day waiver period occasioned by the Covid-19-induced lockdown have been directed to submit their proof of payments to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for a refund.

The NPA restated this directive Thursday as some unions, led by the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), began a warning strike at the Apapa Port over the terminal operators’ alleged refusal to suspend “all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments (demurrage)” as directed.

According to the NPA General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Adams Jatto, the agency has already requested from the agents “evidence that the terminal operators are not complying. Let them give us their terminal documents.

“These documents can be submitted to the port manager, and from there we would know if the shipping companies and terminal operators are complying or not. Terminal operators will be refunded through a credit note equivalent to the amount waived. So they are just doing the waiver on behalf of NPA for relief to the agents.

“The terminal delivery document being demanded from agents is to ascertain whether payment on waiver was made or not, to enable NPA know the level of compliance by terminal operators. The terminal operators will refund any amount paid by the agents. We have sent a warning letter to them on non-compliance in line with agents’ complaints.”

However, sequel to earlier petitions by ANLCA and the Council of Managing Directors of Nigeria Customs Licensed Agents (CMDNCLA) over the terminal operators’ alleged flouting of the order since April 20, the associations said they were beginning a warning strike and have suspended the generation of Terminal Delivery Order (TDO).

Explaining their reason, the Chairman of ANLCA, Apapa chapter, Dom Onyeka, said the NPA asked them to start work at the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, assuring of storage and demurrage charges waiver, but “in the end, shipping companies and terminal operators are not acting in line with that waiver.

“We are now saying that we can no longer work except the directive is being implemented. We have stopped the generation and writing of TDO for now. We have sensitised all our members.”

Though the agents had met with the Apapa Port Manager of the NPA, Funmilayo Olotu, who promised a meeting with the agents and the other relevant stakeholders on Monday, Onyeka said “we cannot continue to wait for the NPA. We have tolerated it enough and cannot continue to pay for what we didn’t enjoy. We didn’t cause the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Tony Nwabunike, said late evening he has asked members to shelve the strike pending the outcome of the meeting on Monday.

He expressed frustration at the NPA’s insistence that the agents should continue paying and presenting proof instead of enforcing the “appropriate sanctions” over non-compliance with the directive as earlier stated.

On their part, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) said that in line with an earlier instruction by its founder, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, members will “not join hands with the enemies of the Nigerian state to disrupt the economy further.”

“We all know that the coronavirus pandemic has already destroyed the world economy and the Nigerian Government decided to leave the ports open in order not to destroy the economy,” NAGAFF Public Relations Officer, Mr. Stanley Ezenga, told The MetroFile.

“We at NAGAFF want to align with the government that there is no need disrupting the already distressed economy. The NPA instructed the terminal operators to waive the rent charges for 21 days.

“However, in the event that the terminal operator(s) refuse to do so, they should pay and keep intact their evidence of payment because at the appropriate time these things will be reconciled. We never asked members to join hands to disrupt the system.”

Nevertheless, a stakeholder said on the ground of anonymity that the terminal operators, “having so far backed government’s fight against the pandemic with over N700 million, have no reason not to implement a waiver which compensation has already been guaranteed their landlord, the NPA.”

Citing Jatto that no agent has so far presented evidence against the terminal operators, the source advised that rather than recourse to strike, “the agents should simply file their proof at the NPA as requested and exercise patience, so long as the documents were for the period covered by the waiver.”

The stakeholder recalled that even the NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, recently commended the terminal operators for implementing the waivers during her recent commissioning of new cranes at the APM Terminals Apapa.

“More so, if the interest is for a further waiver, they should go to the NPA, which called them out to work in the first instance, and still has the power to extend it.”

In a letter of April 2, 2020, the NPA had recognised the pressure the Covid-19 pandemic imposed on businesses, and its responsibility to relief the burden on customers. Therefore, it directed the terminal operators to implement a 21-day waiver on demurrage and storage charges effective March 23, 2020.

It further acknowledged “the financial implications of these policies on the terminal operators,” and in its April 8 letter to the terminal operators, spelt out the terms of such compensation, but warned of “appropriate sanctions” against any form of non-compliance with the directive.

On same terms, it further extended the waiver period by 14 days effective April 13, following government’s extension of the lockdown in Lagos and others by two weeks, bringing all to end on April 27.

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