Monrovia — A high-power delegation headed by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Mr. Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. leaves the country tomorrow for a four-day business conference in Dubai. The tour which is under the invitation of the APM Terminals (APMT) will focus on ship operations in terms of cross-countries comparisons and international best practices that can be adopted in Liberia.
The tour comes against the backdrop of a series of meetings organized by the Business Climate Secretariat in relations to the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Indicator on Trading Across Borders. Port users and operators including shipping lines, importers, exporters, and customs brokers have complained about the slow pace and exorbitant charges at the Freeport of Monrovia.
During a July 16, 2019 meeting with all port actors at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, a Joint Resolution was signed by all parties operating in the Freeport of Monrovia to include Shipping Lines, the Customs Brokers Association, APM Terminals, as well as Officials of Governments.
The Preamble of the Joint Communication (JC) reads: "We as members of the business community, specifically those in the shipping industry met on 16 July 2019 at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to identify and solve some of the constraints pose to the business climate; We believe that such a meeting of parties involved in the shipping industry is relevant in addressing some of the many economic challenges confronting the Liberian economy, and are resolved to addressing them in an amicable manner where necessary."
As a way of making progress, the AMPT was directed to make come up with a decision on the procurement of a gantry crane within two months as of the meeting date. The JC also mandated the AMPT to put a halt to the increase in Marine Fees due to the state of the economy. Sections 1&2 of the JC read: "That the AMP Terminals agreed to provide a decision on the procurement of a gantry or mobile crane in the next two months; and That the APM Terminals, given the nature of the economy, will suspend planned increase schedule for August 2019 fee for Marine Services, pending the outcome of a meeting with the Board of APM Terminals and the Government of Liberia."
Over the years, shipping lines have complained of incurring higher costs due to the lack of a ship to shore crane at the Freeport. Vessels coming into the country must bring their cranes to offload containers. In terms of the discharging of cargo vessels, Liberia ranks amongst the lowest due to the lack of a crane. A port expert noted that with a gantry crane, it can take a maximum 12 hours to offload a container vessel whereas, without one, it will take a minimum of three days to offload a single vessel. Except for Liberia, APMT has gantry cranes in all of their operations around the world, something that raises more questions than answers in terms of the concession agreement.
Appendix 3 of the 2010 APMT agreement stated that the reconstruction of a Marginal Wharf shall be fully operational within the first three years after the effective date and shall include a minimum of 600 meters of quay length in terms of surface and strength for any of the following equipment including Mobile harbor crane (Gottwald Harbor Crane Model 4, Generation 5 or equivalent).
Section 8 of the JC also called on all shipping lines to provide sealed documentation of their Delivery Orders detailing the various fees. Stated Section 8: "That the Shipping Lines will provide a detailed break-down of Delivery Order and Demurrage Costs in Liberia, as part of the Government of Liberia aims to lower shipping cost in line with cost in the region". In keeping with good practices, the shipping lines have since delivered the documents to the Business Climate Secretariat for review and consideration. This invitation comes at a time when the country's economy is undergoing a serious economic surgery due to both exogenous and endogenous diseases ranging from falling prices of natural resources, soaring rate of inflation and a depreciation of the local currency. It is anticipated that Minister Tweah and team including Ministers Wilson Tarpeh, Cllr. Musa Dean and NPA Managing Director, Hon. Bill Twehway will make the most of this opportunity to bring some relief to mainly the end-users of goods and services.