By Ray Ugochukwu
The Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has absolved himself and the Ministry of any blame for the delay in the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) designed to increase indigenous ship acquisition capacity.
Amaechi rather attributed the apparent truncation of the scheme to his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. Hajia Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, alleging that she has refused to allow the scheme run after President Muhammadu Buhari had given his approval.
Amaechi made the allegation on Friday at the just concluded two-day ministerial retreat for officials of his ministry held at the Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos.
While in a chat with journalists, the minister disclosed that he had already secured the President’s approval for the fund, warehoused in the Treasury Single Account (TSA), to be released to beneficiaries only for Ahmed to protest against it.
According to him, the Finance Minister was saying that the CVFF was public fund and should not be given to private individuals and then wondered what else he could do as a minister under such a circumstance.
In his words, “The President has made an approval, saying, go-ahead and disburse. The Attorney- General of the Federation said go-ahead and disburse as the law says it is private funds. But the Minister of Finance protested that the money is public funds and therefore cannot be spent. So, what do I do?’ I am handicapped,” he said.
He, however, asked indigenous shipowners, who are the owners of the Fund, to write a protest letter to the President explaining why the money was a private Fund to enable him present the matter again before the President.
“The owners of the money should write to the President and copy me then I will go back to the President. The law says the money is not public funds. The Minister of Finance does not have the right to advise that it is public funds.
“Now that the owners of the funds are aware, they should write to say ‘we are aware of the approval and we are also aware of the protest by the Minister of Finance. If I have the letter, I will go back to the President”, the Transportation Minister said.
In his own contribution, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, attributed the delay in the disbursement of the fund to technical hitches extraneous to the Agency.
While maintaining that NIMASA was not party to the hitches, he however assured that efforts were ongoing to resolve them before the funds could be disbursed.
“The Minister said he spent two years to obtain 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 tinkered 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 Treasury Single Account and the directive we were given was to disburse the funds from the commercial banks.
“So, 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”, Jamoh disclosed.
Maritime stakeholders have been taken aback as to the recent controversy surrounding the CVFF as revealed by the Minister, Hon. Amaechi.
By the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) Guidelines 2006, the Fund belongs to shipowners and by extension, maritime operators.
Section 3.1 of the Guidelines states as follows: “The Fund shall be utilized by the Agency to offer financial assistance, create access to funding by financial institutions with the sole aim of increasing indigenous ship acquisition
“Disbursement of the Fund shall be subject to the approval of the Minister of Transportation upon recommendation by NIMASA”.
Meanwhile, Amaechi said that Heads of Departments under his Ministry, as well as maritime agencies in Nigeria were assessing the performance of the sector to ascertain the successes recorded so far, and areas where greater attention was needed at the moment.
He said that informed the staging of the Retreat for the officials of MDAs under his supervision, adding that the exercise was a well thought-out initiative aimed at brainstorming on how to rejuvenate the transport/maritime industry for greater prosperity.
“As you can see, we didn’t come here to play. We are here to assess the progress made over the years in the sector, in order to enhance efficiency in our operations.
“You journalists are asking me achievements made in the maritime industry; you can answer that question by yourselves. You cover the industry on daily basis and you relate with stakeholders more often. So, you can see that this present government has achieved a lot in the sector and it’s still doing more to enhance greater productivity”, the minister said.
He added; “This exercise has segments for presentations and discussions on various aspects. At the end of the programme, we will make the Communique available to you”.