4 December 2012

Cameroon: Camship, an Example of Successful Privatisation

The CLGG has successfully redirected the activities of the defunct Cameroon Shipping Lines from a maritime transport company to a viable maritime services company.

The top management of the Consignation et Logistique du Golfe de Guinée, the company that bought over the defunct Cameroon Shipping Lines, the erstwhile national maritime carrier in February 1997 when it was put up for sale, are proud that in 15 years of activities, they are into good business.

On this anniversary year, the chairman of the company Réné Mbayen told Cameroon Tribune this week that rather than cede to joyous celebration, the company has rather decided to use this event as an important moment for reflection on ways to go ahead.

And for good measure. The international economic climate and notably the maritime services sector are bedeviled with numerous problems which require innovative thinking all the time. Also, the company has come a long way, beginning with its creation. Public opinion has also often got the facts wrong. Mr. Mbayen is simply in an off-putting mood when it is suggested, among other things, that Cameroon Shipping Lines was under-sold...to a company in which Mr. Mbayen, its erstwhile CEO had interest. No!, was the chairman's emphatic answer to Cameroon Tribune who painstaking narrated the build-up to the sale of Cameroon Shipping Lines with the Inter-ministerial Committee on the Rehabilitation of State Enterprises of the Ministry of Finance playing a central role.

Mr. Mbayen said from 1994 when CAMSHIP was put up for sale to February 1997 when it was effectively privatized, there was intensive public communication. He recalled an interview granted to Cameroon Tribune in October 1996 in which he was calling on Cameroonian entrepreneurs to show more interest in the CAMSHIP privatization process. "I can assure you that several letters were written by the Financial Adviser selected by the government for the exercise to the UCB, Messrs Samuel Kondo, Joseph Kadji, James Onobiono... I even appeared several times on TV for the same appeal", he told CT. "How the can people say the procedure was not transparent," he queried.

Mr. Mbayen's continued presence in the management team of the new company probably explains some of the misunderstanding and misinformation around the CLGG. But as he explained, few people seemed interested in the privatization exercise, even within the board of directors where many members were uncertain about the success of the process.

But counting on a provision in the texts that opened possibility for the staff of the company to buy shares in their own company, Mr. Mbayen helped create SOFIMAR, entirely owned by the 180 staff of the time turned share holders. SOFIMAR or the Société Financière d'Ingénierie Maritime with Mr Mbayen and other senior CAMSHIP staff at the head, trained its members on risk-taking and on the need to make sacrifices. SOFIMAR was able to buy 13 percent of the shares of CLGG. On their proposal, and with only 13 percent shares, Mr Mbayen was designated CEO of the company by all the shareholders.

To further debunk those claiming that CAMSHIP was undersold, Mr. Mbayen revealed that at the outset, the nominal value of a share was FCFFA 20,000. The government's financial adviser proposed FCFA 25,000. But the government ended up selling a share at FCFA 28,000, a whopping 40percent increase on the nominal value. "How then can anyone say CAMSHIP was undersold, Mr. Mbayen argued, recalling that the State sold only part of its shares and not all.

Another hot potato issue in the media is the sale of CAMSHIP vessels. The sale, Mr. Mbayen said, was carried out in all transparency and with due respect for all the necessary procedure and authorisations.

Dispelling rumours about having sold the vessels to cronies, Mr. Mbayen recalled that sales transactions in the maritime business are traceable with names and addresses of buyers. Moreover, he wondered if it was possible to come across a Cameroonian who can easily pull out 12 million USD to buy a ship.

The CLGG chairman said the company was on a good path of growth, especially as it is diversifying its activities to become more of a maritime services company than a maritime transport company.

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