By Ahuraka Isah, Abuja –
The Managing Director of Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA), Umana Okon Umana, has said the Authority’s new standard operating procedure (SOP) to enforce the laws and regulations in the free zones has nothing to do with 2019 politics as being alleged in certain quarters.
He described those alleging politics in the Authority’s operations as anti-change agents who are bent on defying the change agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in order to sustain the old order of doing things in the country’s oil and gas free zones.
Specifically, Umana was reacting to recent media attacks on the Authority by the management of a concessionaire of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a licensee of OGFZA, Intels Nigeria Limited (INL), alleging that the Authority is disparaging its reputation because of certain political interests.
Threatening legal action against OGFZA, Intels had listed some of the contentious issues to include the refusal of OGFZA to renew the 2017 Operating License for Intels Nigeria Limited, the imposition of land charges by OGFZA, nullification of INL’s Industry Wide Standard Tariff (IWST) and other port related charges by OGFZA.
Intels also accused the OGFZA MD of leveling “false and malicious allegations against the company and its management which are injurious to its business interests, as well as the reputation of INL”.
This was after OGFZA had ordered a comprehensive compliance audit of Intels’ operations in the last 10 years and appointed a team of auditors to examine the firm’s books.
The audit, the Authority noted, followed the company’s alleged serial violation of the laws and regulations governing operations in the free zone.
It accused Intels of failing to submit its records, warehouses and equipment imported under the zero duty regime of the free zone for inspection in compliance with the OGFZA Act.
In an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP at the weekend, the MD of OGFZA described the allegations leveled against the Authority as “unfortunate and totally misleading”.
Umana said, “The work of the Authority is anchored on laws, rules and regulations and as a regulator, we can only be guided by the laws as enshrined in the Act establishing the Authority. Our operation has nothing to do with politics. I can assure you that there are conditions and procedures for the renewal of licences. These conditions are contained in the extant laws of the Authority.
“For example, if you have to renew your licences, you have to meet several conditions, which include payment of prescribed fees, payment of any outstanding amount which is due to the Authority, submission of audited accounts and annual returns, as well as other relevant information that the Authority may require and submission of appraisal reports.
“We have several companies, which for one reason or the other, their licences have not been renewed. So, it is wrong to single out Intels to say its licence hasn’t been renewed because of 2019 politics”.
Umana explained that, while OGFZA has treated all companies the same way, the companies also have a choice to renew or not to renew their licences.
His words: “At the beginning of this year, some companies wrote to us to say they were not renewing their licences and were deregistering. But some others have not written to the Authority to say they are deregistering, or not renewing their licences. Intels is one of those companies.
“We wrote to them in February to say that you are yet to renew your licence. I personally met with the managing director of Intels on the renewal of their licence. They asked for an extension of time and we gave them up to April. April came and they still had not renewed their licence and by June, when they had still not renewed their licence, we again wrote another reminder.
“They (Intels) have only met one of the conditions for renewal of licence; they have only paid the prescribed fees for renewal of licence. They still have some other outstanding fees that they have not paid to the Authority, relating to other items.
“They have not submitted their audited account, even though we have written to them since December 2016. So, they have not met the conditions for the renewal of licence. We wrote reminders severally, not only to Intels, but all others who have not met the conditions for renewal of licences.
“Some of the companies that have met the conditions but have not defrayed their prescribed fees and administrative fees wrote back to the Authority to say they would like to meet with us to discuss how to defray their outstanding liabilities.
“And they came with a payment plan of two, three months and we were able to restore their operations and when they completed payments, their licences were issued”.
Explaining further, Umana said, “Intels also started the process of reconciliation of their outstanding indebtedness. But even though they started that process, they failed to pay the prescribed administrative charge to the Authority and they also have not submitted their audited account.
“In October, we wrote another reminder to them that the year was coming to an end and they had not renewed their licence. We were rather surprised that instead of completing the process of engagement which they started and asked for time to regularise the conditions, they went to the press with a different story and wrote to us, giving us a five-day ultimatum to release their licence or they would go to court.
“They said they had paid the prescribed fee to NPA and so, were not liable to pay the administrative charge due to OGFZA, when indeed they had made commitment to pay the outstanding liability to the tune of $3 million. They misled the public into thinking that the matter was political. It wasn’t political; it simply had to do with compliance with extant laws and conditions for renewal of licence. We have nothing to do with politics. We are doing our work as a regulator in accordance with the law.
“In the letter we wrote back to Intels, we clearly stated those areas where they have not complied with the law. They have not written back to say that ‘no, you are wrong; we have complied with the relevant provisions of the law”.
On what OGFZA is doing to break the monopoly in the oil and gas free zones by some companies, Umana said, “Our mandate as the regulator of Oil and Gas Free Zones is to ensure that the free zones are run on the basis of the extant laws of the organisation.
“And since I took over as the managing director/ chief executive officer of Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), that has been our primary focus, to ensure that we provide the level playing field for the operators and stakeholders in the zones and we are strictly guided by the extant laws of the Authority.
“I believe that until we do that, we cannot properly regulate the operators in the zones. I can give you examples on the issue of tariffs. The law already provides that the Authority shall approve the tariffs, as applicable to the free zones. The OGFZA shall approve tariffs for the free zones, which all licencees and operators shall comply with. That is the position of the law.
“It was not enforced before I was appointed in September 2016 as the managing director of OGFZA. So, I am taking necessary steps to ensure that that aspect of the laws and regulations guiding the Authority is faithfully implemented. When that is done, the issue of monopoly will not arise”.
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