Transport, Finance Minsters bicker over disbursement of N136.5bn CVFF

By Steve Agbota                         

By Steve Agbota                                    [email protected]

A directive by President, Muhammadu Buhari and that of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, that the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF) should be released to target beneficiaries is threatening the relationship between the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi and Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed.

Daily Sun learnt that while the Transport Minister, Amaechi wants the fund, which is in the region of N136.5 billion speedily released to indigenous ship owners, the Finance Minister, Ahmed is completely opposed the idea, insisting that that the fund is a public fund not private fund and it cannot be disbursed. This decision has dashed the hopes of local ship owners because the fund will not be disbursed soon.

However, the CVFF was inserted into the Nigerian Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act of 2003 to empower indigenous ship owners to take control of the nation’s coastal and inland shipping, otherwise known as Cabotage trade.

The Act was enacted to make Cabotage trade the exclusive reservation of indigenous ship owners, as obtains in other climes. The law emanated after the realisation that nation’s Cabotage trade was dominated by foreigners. In passing the law, the lack of financial power of indigenous ship owners to acquire vessels was also put into consideration, which brought about the insertion of the CVFF. The law, however, demands two per cent contribution of indigenous ship owners from every contract executed to develop Cabotage fleet and local shipping capacity.

Since the Act was established as part of Nigeria’s Cabotage law of 2003, it has remained mysterious to all the stakeholders in the nation’s maritime sector.

Following the enactment of the law, the fund has continued to grow to extend that nobody knows the actual amount of the fund. The reason why the money remains intractable, is that after 18 years, it continues to grow but cannot be touched, thereby defeating its main purpose.

Under the immediate past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, the fund was in the region of $200 million and different dates and days were set aside to disburse it to the qualified ship owners, but it never happened.

Conversely, at a recent event, the current Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said the CVFF account has two components. There is a Dollar and Naira components. “As of the time we came into office, over a year ago and now, we have over 32 billion in Naira and 209 million in Dollars,” he said.

Jamoh said that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy had affected the timely disbursement of the fund.

“With the way the Cabotage Act of 2003 is designed, disbursement from primary lending institutions as stated in the Act, cannot happen now, because the operations of TSA in all government agencies accounts now comes from TSA. We now must adapt to a system where we can operate from the TSA and that is the process we are going through now,” he said.

Daily Sun learnt that NIMASA had in March said it received the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to disburse the Fund to qualified indigenous maritime operators in line with the TSA policy and the CVFF guidelines.

However, the agency is yet to apply the over $200 million accumulated in the Fund into the acquisition of vessels for local ship owners, who have been struggling to survive due to lack of access to funds to run their business.

Speaking at the Federal Ministry of Transportation’s 2020 Ministerial Retreat in Lagos last week, Amaechi, disclosed that the Ministry of Finance was frustrating the disbursement of the CVFF.

Amaechi said President Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami , have approved the disbursement of the fund but the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, protested against its disbursement, saying public fund shouldn’t be disbursed to private operators.

“The President made approval, saying go ahead and disburse, and the Attorney-General said go ahead, the law says it is a private fund but the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed protested that it is a public fund and cannot be spent. So, what will I do?” Amaechi asked rhetorically.

Meanwhile, he advised ship owners to write a protest letter to the president, seeking the disbursement of the fund and explain why the money is a private fund.

“The owners of the fund should write to the president and copy me, then I will go back to the president. The law says it’s not a public fund, now that they are aware they should write to say we are aware of the approval, and we are aware of the protest by the Minister of Finance and if I have all these, I will go back to the President,” he said.

Also speaking at the event, the NIMASA boss ascribed the delay in the disbursement of the fund to technical hitches, NIMASA was not party to it, assuring that efforts are ongoing to resolve the issues before the funds could be disbursed.

He added: “The Minister said he spent two years to attain approval from the President for the disbursement of the funds. But later he was made to understand between the Ministry of Finance and NIMASA that approval has been tampered with.

“There were changes in the approval made and those changes have to do with where the money should be disbursed. NIMASA was not a party to that. The money is presently in the TSA and the directive we were given was to disburse the funds from the commercial banks.”

According to him, when the Minister sought the approval of the President to disburse the funds, the Finance Ministry rejected the option of disbursing the funds through the commercial banks.

“So, the approval came for the second time that we can go ahead and disburse the fund but it must be done from where the money is now, which is the TSA account. But what the Minister was saying is that the guidelines stipulate that the money should be disbursed through the Primary Lending Institution (PLIs) and the CBN is not a PLI because it is not a commercial bank.

“The approval that came in now says we must disburse it through the CBN. So, what we are doing now is to see how we can wriggle ourselves out through the utilisation of the TSA, that is, CBN, and without tinkering with the existing laws or the guidelines by the National Assembly, which says the funds should come through the commercial banks.

“So, what did we do? We still went ahead, advertised expressions of interest and 11 banks applied. We have picked the 11 banks and sent their names to the Minister. According to the guidelines, the Minister will be the one to select the four PLIs among the 11 banks sent to him,” he said.

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