27 March 2017

Cameroon: Break the Human Wall!


Port management, anywhere in the world, is like that of a hotel wherein dividends are based on how the facility is known and used. Simply knowing the existence of a port is not a guarantee for its profitability. Service delivery which entails how long and how easy it takes to import and exports goods via the port, ascertains the competiveness of the infrastructure vis-à-vis others and above all ensures it profitability. The Douala port, the main maritime transit point for goods into and out of Cameroon and some landlocked countries of the CEMAC sub region, has not been the best in recent years, in terms of performance. Complaints of perennial delays in clearing goods from the port have been growing by the day with problems of repeated congestion of containers at the port giving sleepless nights to the government and the business community. The presence of middlemen at the port, to say the least, stifles efficiency and tarnishes the image not only of the port but also of the country in the eyes of potential investors. Cameroon's low performance in the World Bank Doing Business Report has been largely blamed on the inefficiency of the port. Persistent complaints of delays in clearing goods from the Douala port, once again reiterated on March 24, 2017 during the visit of World Bank experts at the One-Stop-Shop, are therefore irking. The administration has invested time and money to draft programmes and adopt efficiency-enhancing policies which do not seem to be yielding required fruit. The One-Stop-Shop which implied a platform where all administrative and fiscal transactions are carried out for import and export still seems to be wanting. Even announced innovations wherein importers start the clearance procedures of their containers before they arrive or immediately after shipment are yet to cause a turnaround. Complaints of importers and exporters finding it difficult to get a signature of an official supposed to have been within the One-Stop-Shop framework are still commonplace. Therefore, the target of seven days to clear goods at the port is still illusive. As such, the port's competitiveness is compromised and the country's attractiveness dampened; regrettably at a time viable and sustainable investments are needed. What is mindboggling in all of these is that all the policies put in place and which are yearning for fruition here are recording resounding successes elsewhere. For instance, the Qingdao Port in Shandong Province of China is by far bigger than that of Douala and uses almost the same policies and programmes to stand tall as one of the world's best port in terms of container management. What then is wrong with our port in Douala? Stakeholders absolutely need to make an evaluation of the policies and programmes put in place to pinpoint the missing link. One thing that stands out, even from observation, is the human factor. Old habits are hard to die. Policies are put in place by man and success stifled by fellow man for everything but collective interest. Without being a prophet of doom, we observe that no amount of policies can change the goods clearance difficulties at the port until the visible and invisible human walls wreaking havoc therein are broken. Only then can we hope for change!


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