By Mohamed Lavalie
A seaport is a major strategic and economic importance to nations in which it is located. Fundamentally, it is the gateway for trade through which import and export cargos are transferred1. Liberia has four sea ports, the Freeport of Monrovia (now operated by APM Terminals Liberia), Ports of Buchanan, Greenville and Harper. The 1972 Act of legislation gives the management of all ports to the National Port Authority headed by an Executive Officer and oversight by the Board of Directors. The Executive Officer is selected by the Board and Members of the Board of Directors are all appointed by the President.The government of Liberia in 2008 embarked a port reform program in order to overcome port inefficiency and deficiency for the attainment of improved productivity and service quality in the port sector.
Up until 2010 the Liberian ports suffered from increasing inefficiency, leading to long turn-around times for ships, lack of equipment, poor maintenance culture, rising container dwelling time and dilapidated infrastructure with a case of the country’s busiest commercial quay reaching a national state of emergency due to a possible collapse which would have seen a total breakdown in Liberia’s state economy. Moreover, there was an overstaffed and unproductive labour force, increased insecurity of cargos, corrupt practices and excessive port-related charges with no official transactions receipts2. Furthermore, instead of the National Port Authority of Liberia positioning itself for the growing competition in world seaborne trade by improving its human capacity, infrastructure and superstructure development in having personnel specialized in technical port related disciplines and routinely maintaining or expanding its ports infrastructure and superstructure, the Ports Authority of Liberia has been a subject of denial of opportunities to deserving Liberians and wanton neglect to human capacity development and the lack of basic routine services of its infrastructure or superstructure. To say the least, the port authority failed to institute knowledge transfer activities to talented and deserving Liberians. Today, there is hardly any port specialized or technical personnel at the level of the Board of Directors and Senior Management Team neither are there ongoing specialized port trainees to be capacitated in handling the eminent technical challenges. Additionally, Liberia’s port sector lacks specialized advocacy body that will protect the interest of shippers, importers and exporters. If these trends of unfamiliarity and neglect continue, our port sector will continue to go backward and remain between first and second generation ports instead of moving forward in this
modern and technological age of fourth generation ports3.
Liberia’s Port Reform
A port reform is to provide policymakers and practitioners with an effective decision support in undertaking sustainable and well-considered reforms of public institutions that provide and regulate port services in developing countries4.
As good as port reform sounds, Liberia is yet to make full use of the benefits. The Port Reform Secretariat of Liberia embarked on a port reform program in order to overcome port inefficiency and deficiency for the attainment of improved productivity in the sector. To facilitate this reform agenda, on October, 25th 2008, the Government of Liberia, with the support of the World Bank, signed an agreement with a leading West African Port Reformer firm, the Canadian Pacific Consulting Services, CPCS Transcom International. The objective of the agreement was to transform the management of Liberia’s port sector from a public sector service port into a landlord port.
After two years of pre-privatization studies and due diligence on the Liberian port sector, CPCS submitted its final report to the Government of Liberia. CPCS proposed three key areas for immediate future consideration by the National Port Authority5:
1. Develop and implement the reorganization of the National Port Authority NPA);
2. Identify training needs appropriate to the NPA, and the knowledge and skills that must be transferred to Liberian nationals in support of an overall capacity- building process; and
3. Develop organizational processes and manuals for Port Regulations, Financial Procedures, Procurement and Human Resource to help transition the National Port Authority into a modern port organization.
To date, neither the Board of Directors, the Senior Management of the port or Port Reform Secretariat have given attention to these critical issues of port reform in Liberia. In the sub-region where similar port reform programs were sought (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Ivory Coast, to mentioned few) there were major changes in the port organizations in fulfilment of port reform. As a result, today most of these ports and nations are now leaders of the industry in our region. In the case of Liberia, this neglect in the unfinished port reform agenda can only be seen as a case of inexperience and unfamiliarity in running the port sector development. Thus it makes Liberia’s port reform agenda bleak.
The closest to the development and implementation by our port authority is the highly talked about port master plan. A Port master plan, often in the form of a layout drawing, will define the future long-term development of the port area often over the next 25 years. The plan reviews the existing port situation, traffic forecasts and prepares preliminary designs6. Hopefully, if we truly have a port master plan that is carefully thought through and well forecasted, we should be thinking about its full implementation.
Liberia’s cases of displayed limitations and unfamiliarity in running the port sector
Having failed to develop organizational processes and manuals to include Port Regulations Manual, Financial Procedures Manual, Procurement Manuals, Human Resource Manual to help transition the NPA to a modern port organization, Liberia’s port sector is faced with these nightmares:
1. No 24hrs vessels berthing and unberthing. Liberia’s one and only busiest port, the Freeport of Monrovia cannot operate 24 hours world standard port services. For years now vessels from Monrovia cannot sail or berth after 18:00 hrs. due to the absence of navigational aids7. The absence of navigational aids limits our capacity to compete with other busy ports in the sub region because it adds to the overall cost of shipping when a ship completes operations after 18:00 and sits idle at our berth waiting for the next day to sail, or a ship arrives at anchorage after 18:00, but is waiting until the next day to berth;
2. Antiquated Port Bylaws. Our ports in Liberia are operating with outdated and old fashioned port regulations. Port regulations are bylaws, which provide very detailed regulations relating to the conduct of vessels, safety and order in the port area. For example, it deals with Vessel Traffic Management, Pilotage, Order and Safety in the Port, Reporting and Communication, Dangerous Cargoes, Transport and Handling, Pollution and Reception Facilities regulations to govern our port operations8. Liberia’s current port regulation was written in 19749. This means, that from 1974 to present all new developments in the port sector in terms or environmental and safety related issues in the port have been lacking in our port bylaws;
3. Draft Restrictions on vessels coming to Liberia. Monrovia’s current vessel draft restriction is 11 meters, which is a huge bottleneck for ships coming to do business in Liberia. The vessels’ under keel clearances enhance maneuverability of ships within your basin. Therefore, the draft limitation or restriction means vessels can only come into port with smaller amounts of cargo, thus preventing the country from benefiting from the economy of scale - the bigger the vessel the better and cheaper the cargos10. The Freeport of Monrovia was last dredged in
2012. This means, we are counting three years without maintenance dredging.
Having failed to develop and implement the reorganization of the National Port Authority we are left facing an uncertain future and fewer capacities.
Multiple gate transactions at the Freeport of Monrovia.
With the rapid development and improvement of container yard operations in 18-23 months after having broken ground, the Modern Container Yard Development Project by APM Terminals Liberia,11 will place higher performance demands on the gate system for cargos /containers leaving and entering the Freeport of Monrovia. Therefore, to reduce future delay at the Freeport of Monrovia, the Management of the National Port Authority should be working out modalities so as to have
Monrovia operate a single gate system instead of NPA and Customs processing containers at their gate and APMT doing the same at her gate.
An anticipated synchronization of the gate system for cargo leaving and entering
the Liberian commerce will reduce unnecessary delay at the gateway to the nation economy;
2. No Port Authority Vessel Communication Center or Vessel Traffic Control System12. Monitoring movement of vessels in the basin serves as a first line of national defence in case a stray vessel is to enter Liberia or to avoid collision and grounding if our port was busy. Our port authority does not have a mechanism to communicate with vessels coming or leaving our ports;
3. No Port Authority Vessel Tracking System. If you are a port user outside the port, you cannot track the vessel that is carrying your cargo, except by walking to the shipping line or terminal operator offices. There is a need for a vessel tracking system so as to enable port users to track vessels at the ports of Liberia;
4. Limited berths at the Freeport of Monrovia. The Freeport of Monrovia is a
multipurpose port, meaning the port handles all kinds of cargos only on three available berths with a length of 600 meters. This poses a challenge to vessels doing business in Liberia. A vessel, for example a container vessel, may have a berthing window in the next port of call and therefore will need a fixed time to spend in Monrovia for operations; otherwise, it will not fulfill its berthing rights in the next port. If an allocated time in Monrovia is not given, the vessel will rather cut Monrovia for the next port. Meaning, customers waiting for their cargos will not get it in time. Similarly, a general cargo vessel with a stipulated time frame in its charter party must work in the agreed time frame as signed with the vessel’s owner. If a berth is not available for working of the vessel the charterer will pay demurrage, a charge that will be extended to the consuming public.
Having failed to identify training needs appropriate to the NPA, with the knowledge and skills that must be transferred to Liberian nationals in support of overall capacity- building processes, where do we turn for the needed but lacking technical expertise?
1. Lack of Specialized Professionals. Marine services at the Freeport of Monrovia will be up for review early next year. After a period of five years of preparation, the NPA is only getting into the market, like how to source tug boats with no specialized personnel to operate these boats. Should the NPA regain marine services, specialized professionals such as master mariners, pilots, chief engineers and deck hands and others will be needed. It is almost impossible to get these specialized professionals in this short space of time. Hopefully, we will fatten the cow on the market day;
2. No Specialized International Training. For years, including the past peaceful decade, there has been no NPA led port special international training or attachment program for knowledge transfer activities to talented and deserving Liberians. The moment our current aging and limited cadre of port experts fades
out, our nation will only survive if the foreign market were to supply port experts.
The need for a new port regulatory framework to improve Liberia’s port sector
Based on the massive show of neglect and unfamiliarity, a proposed new legal and regulatory port framework for the National Port Authority and the Liberian port community is needed to be enacted.
I. Repeal Chapter VI, Title 55-1 and 2 of the 1972 Act of the National Port Authority13 thereby making provision for statutory provision in the new Act for the inclusion of specialized professionals in the Board of Directors, Senior Management Team of the National Port Authority. The current Act gives power to the Executive “to appoint six representatives of the Government, four representatives of a cross-section of the users of the port, one representative of a cross-section of the Government on the Board and the other members of the Board shall be nominated by the respective groups, subject to the approval and appointment of the President”14. Also, power is given to the NPA’s Management by the 1972 Act to hire deputies to the Chief Executive Officer as may be determined necessary. All of the above stipulations are without consideration for specialized professionals.
Therefore, the need for a statutory mandate in the Port Authority Act for at least two members of the Board of Directors with professional marine related background and three Deputy Managing Directors’ positions is highly recommended as follows:
1. Deputy Managing Director for Marine and Operational Services15
2. Deputy Managing Director Technical and Engineering Services
3. Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance
This will champion the cause of reconstituting the management team and Board of Directors with mostly professionals and specialized technicians to enable decision makers make sound and progressive port development decisions.
II. Create an Act of Legislation for the establishment of a Liberia Shippers’ Council as a statutory body in Liberia that will protect the interests of all importers and exporters in Liberia. This body will represent the views of shippers in regards to the structure of freight rates, availability and adequacy of shipping space, frequency of vessel sailing, port charges and port facilities, undertake and carry out studies affecting shippers in Liberia and other shipper related matters.
Most countries and regions around the world have Shippers’ Councils protecting the interests of their shippers, importers and exporters.16 Liberia can do the same.
In order to become an efficient and reliable port nation so as to strategically position ourselves for reaping the benefits of international trade by providing a competitive edge amongst our competitors in the sub-region, our focus must be on reforming the highly inexperienced and ineffective port sector in Liberia. This is a critical need that would lead to the path of achieving maximum efficiency and better service delivery in Liberia’s port sector, thus giving that positive sign that Liberia is ready to perform its role in world seaborne trade.
The Liberian port sector, according to statute, is being driven by the Board of Directors for virtually all the major decisions17. Sadly, the composition of the Board of Directors and Senior Management Team lacks provision for experience and specialized professionals that would provide oversight in formulating and implementing contemporary port operational and management systems. This cumulates to inefficiency, unethical and lengthy decision-making processes that is taking the Liberian Ports Sector into retrogression. As a result of this inexperience the port authority cannot perform its responsibility of regulation and operational functions of the ports. This is clearly a major bottleneck to developing efficiency in our port sector.
If we have specialized port professionals at the level of the Board of Directors of the National Port Authority, some of these cases of showed inexperience and unfamiliarity would not have occurred in the port sector at the expense of the nation.
To support our country’s economic growth, our port authority needs to run 24hrs vessels berthing and unberthing activities, dredge our port regularly, embark upon marine specialized training program locally as well as internationally, synchronize our ports gates system, repeal our current port act by a new Act of legislation to include specialized professionals in decision making positions for daily running of our port sector, create a specialized regulatory body to protect our importers, exporters and shippers by ensuring service quality in our port sector, review our port regulations to incorporate contemporary environmental and safety issues, build vessel communication, tracking and traffic Control center and expand our vessel berthing capacity in Monrovia to the minimum of five berths.