- goods now examined manually
OCTOBER 14, 2014 By Mohamed Massaquoi
In-depth investigation into the activities of the Sierra Leone Ports Authority (SLPA) (commonly known as the Queen Elizabeth II Quay) has revealed that for the past weeks the only scanning machine for containers at the quay has broken down; a development that is forcing importers to physically open their containers for goods to be manually examined.
Hundreds of businessmen and women daily line up within the confines of the quay to identify their containers for onward examination by ports officials.
The government, through the National Commission for Privatization (NCP) with support from the World Bank, has provided an ambitious program with huge funding for Port sector reform. The centre of the effort was the transformation of the Ports to international standards.
The concession agreement for the container terminal operations was signed at the end of November 2010 and SLPA was to restructure itself to a landlord authority.
This was the more reason why the Open Government Initiative (OGI), alongside journalists and civil society activists from various organizations, yesterday paid an on-the-spot visit so as to have first-hand information regarding the delay in clearing containers at the quay, among other issues.
It was discovered that though a lot of donor money has been spent on the reformation of the quay, workers are still grappling with an old and worn-out Chinese technology which was installed over 20 years ago to provide services to customers in order to ease their burden during the inspection of goods that are imported into the country.
Head of Scanning Department at the quay, Moses Bayon, said the only Chinese expert who was helping them with addressing some of the technical problems of the machine, has travelled out of the country due to the Ebola outbreak.
He said it is now difficult to scan containers because the entire system is completely down.
“We were not trained to operate the scanning machine, our role is to switch on the scanner and take relevant information regarding the contents of a container. Indeed the system is down,” he said.
But SLPA acting General Manager, Alhaji Abdulai Mohamed Sesay, said they are doing everything possible to ensure professional standards are maintained at the quay, but hastened to note that the issue of containers within the quay is privately handled by a specialized agency called Bolloré Africa Logistics.
“We are very open in all our operations. In fact we serve as landlords to all other agencies operating within the quay,” Sesay said.
It could be recalled that in November 2010, following an international call for bids, the Freetown Ports Authority awarded the concession for the new container terminal at the port to Bolloré Africa Logistics. The concession took effect in March 2011.
General Manager of Bolloré, Marc Gerard, said since they took over container services, they have ensured speedy transfer of containers to the appropriate owners, noting that his organization entered into a 25-year concession agreement which includes renovation and modernization of the terminal.
“Bolloré Africa Logistics now employs hundreds of Sierra Leoneans at the terminal. We have started a wide-range of developments including refurbishment of the container wharf, introduction of secured and computerized management, and delivery of appropriate modern handling equipment, among others,” he noted.
Gerard further said that they are committed to the fight against the deadly Ebola outbreak in the country, “which is the more reason we give preference to containers that belong to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation”.