Shippers burdened by the cost of paying the controversial Shipping Line Agency Charges (SLAC) to shipping companies can now heave a sigh of relief as the Appeal Court sitting in Lagos on Wednesday declared the charge illegal.
SLAC was represented before the court in the case between the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), the ports economic regulator and the shipping companies.
The Council had in 2014 reduced the amount collected on SLAC and shipping companies under the Association of Shipping Lines Agencies (ASLA) took the Council to High Court to stop the port economic regulator from exercising its powers, but lost the case in December 2014. The shipping companies headed to the Appeal Court to contest the High Court judgment.
In the judgment read by Justice Adejumo, the Appeal Court ordered that the appellants should stop collecting SLAC. The court further ordered that the appellants should give account of what they collected from 11 years ago till date to the Shippers’ Council.
Apart from this, the appellants are also to make the refund the sum collected so far with 21 percent interest per annum since 2006. The Court also ordered that the parties involved in the collection of SLAC are to bear respective costs.
However, the court held that the ports economic regulator cannot impose charges without first of all negotiating with the service providers. As a result, the Court declared the Notice that the Council had issued in 2014 on some of the charges, null and void.
Industry stakeholders, who commented on the development, expressed dismay over the delay in the case, and had called for out of court settlement.
A close source disclosed that the NSC and the shipping companies were considering the out of court settlement option before the Appeal Court judgement.
Kayode Farinto, national publicity secretary, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), who stated that Nigerian ports were losing business to other ports in neighbouring countries due to high cost and cargo clearing bottlenecks, said there were lots of rent-seeking among service providers and agencies of government at the ports.