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Hadiza takes NPA to next level

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LESS than three years after the appointment of Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority by President Muhammadu Buhari, a new phase of port administration has emerged.

Against the pessimistic views of some shipping practitioners who had thought that both age and experience were not on her side, the enormous development projects initiated and delivered by the then termed green horn in shipping affairs, is by all parameters taking the port administration to the next level of vibrant port administration in the comity of maritime nations.

The pessimism expressed on her appointment is simply because unlike in most maritime nations where income from port operations represents an enormous revenue line, successive administrations in Nigeria had treated the NPA as a cash-cow, milking revenue that accrues to the agency and sharing lucrative port contracts to their cronies as a reward for political loyalty and support.

Surprisingly, emerging facts revealed that it was until the appointment in July, 2016, of a reputable activist and alumnus of University of Leeds Bala-Usman that a new chapter was glaringly opened in Nigeria’s port development.  This perhaps explains why even though 75 percent of exports and imports pass through Nigeria’s seaports, the NPA had grossly underperformed over the years in terms of revenue generated as quota contributed to the Nigerian economy.

It hasn’t, however, taken the focused Managing Director long before reversing the retrogressive trend at the NPA and turning the fortunes of the agency around.

From the moment her appointment was announced, Hadiza did not waste any time in kick-starting a chain of reforms geared towards blocking all the existing avenues for revenue leakages at the NPA, including the implementation of the Treasury Single Account of the federal government as well as the adoption of an automated revenue and invoice management system.

These reform policies implemented by Usman have already started bearing fruits as the NPA for two years declared impressive revenue for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. Effectively, within 24 months of Hadiza Bala-Usman’s leadership at the NPA, the agency has witnessed a magnificent turnaround,

from being a hotbed of corruption and monumental fraud, to becoming one of the highest revenue generating agencies under the Buhari administration and a pillar for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy to break the overreliance on oil. A key element of this remarkable success story is the revenue and invoice management system which was put in place as part of Hadiza Bala-Usman’s efforts to further strengthen transparency in revenue collection and remittance, and to make doing business at Nigeria’s seaports easier for all stakeholders, the Nigerian Ports Authority.

The revenue and invoice management system is a web-based billing and revenue collection application which has fully automated the entire billing cycle of the NPA from invoice generation, payments, and maintenance of books. This has proved to be a hugely successful mechanism for keeping the proverbial yams from the goat as far as corruption and revenue leakages are concerned at the NPA. The revenue and invoice management system have made it possible for NPA customers to view their account details and balance on the portal while viewing their bill/invoice status as they are generated and approved by the NPA. Customers are also able to apply for sailing clearance online and download their Sailing Clearance Certificate on approval by the NPA.

The implementation of this revenue and invoice management system has considerably reduced the cost of doing business with the NPA and increased the efficiency of the agency especially in the area of revenue collection. As a result of this visionary move by Hadiza Bala-Usman and her team, the billions of Naira that used to get lost in translation during the revenue collection process that was previously in place at the NPA are now being remitted directly to the right accounts.

This move follows the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account policy by the NPA which has uncovered how companies backed erstwhile strong political forces were pocketing revenues collected on behalf of the Nigerian government and diverting same into their own purses. One of such companies has been collecting revenue from shippers on behalf of the NPA for several years, keeping the bulk of all the funds and remitting to the agency a tiny percentage as it pleases. This was the order of the day until Hadiza Bala-Usman stepped into the picture.

Another testament to the strategic revenue generation policy instituted by Hadiza Bala-Usman at the NPA is the acquisition of four new 60-tonne buller-pull tugboats with state-of-the-art equipment and fully computerised engines at the cost of $30 million. This forms part of efforts to boost marine operation and service delivery in the Lagos Pilotage District and to improve NPA’s towage services and thus enhance the nation’s revenue as bigger vessels can now call at the ports. Hadiza Usman has also enforced quick payment of concession dues by all terminal operators and sanctioning of defaulters, ending the era of carefree attitude that results in government revenue being kept away in private pockets.

So thorough has Hadiza Bala-Usman being in her pursuit of transparency and full accountability in NPA’s revenue drive that it took less than one month after she assumed office to uncover about N11.23 billion belonging to the agency and that should have been transmitted into the TSA but was kept in certain commercial banks.

According to sources familiar with the fraud investigation, the funds were collected as revenue for NPA through some commercial banks, but through collusion between the bank officials and some officials of the maritime agency, the funds never made it into NPA’s Treasury Single Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The former management of the agency also failed to disclose the funds in the handover note passed to Hadiza Bala-Usman during the handing over process.

Strategic efforts have since been put in place to recover these unremitted funds. These far-reaching reforms have definitely unsettled a lot of vested interests who were beneficiaries of the status quo that existed at the NPA before July 2016, but Hadiza Bala-Usman, who was listed by Financial Times amongst the most influential women of 2014, has remained undeterred in her resolve to put the NPA on a pedestal where it can stand shoulder to shoulder with its peers in more advanced economies. Therein lies the good news for Nigerians whose lives are being touched through projects that are funded by the revenue that the NPA transmits into our commonwealth.

According to Usman, the NPA  has been so modernized, automated and repositioned to compete favourably before the international community, adding that the agency has been accorded recognition by the International Organisation for Standardization due to the positive steps it took in moving the sector forward.

Usman, who spoke recently on the sideline of the workshop on ‘Data & Investigative Journalism Training for Maritime Journalists’ organized recently by Premium Times Services Limited  said a lot of progress have been made in the areas of safety, environmental protection, operational efficiency and improved service delivery. She identified the commissioning of the Command and Control Communication and intelligence centre for NPA which will serve as surveillance of all activities and as an information network centre for security agencies in the ports as among the achievements of the authority.

Others include acquisition and commissioning of four new tub boats to improve on operational efficiency, upgrade of 25 years port development master plan and transformation of NPA’s manpower development practices to improve the skill, knowledge and capacity of employees.

She also identified the reconstruction of the port access road and commissioning of a simulator centre for the training of pilots as among the achievements recorded by the organisation.

She added that the management was determined to reposition the ports to continue to enjoy operational diligence as part of the efforts to take the NPA to the next desired level.

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