Friday, December 05, 2008

Congestion at Lagos Ports

Again, there is congestion at Lagos ports. Although some congestion is expected at this seasonal period, the current problem predates the season and has strong semblance with the perennial congestion problem associated with the ports.
The situation is so bad that incoming ships now anchor on high seas for weeks before they get slots to berth. And the many containers that have not been cleared leave little room for fresh ones to be off-loaded.
The situation has its dramatic high points as this: The delay in the distribution of the 4,500 three-wheel vehicles popularly called "Keke NAPEP" approved by the Federal Government to be distributed to all the states in the country including the Federal Capital Territory has been attributed to the congestions at the Lagos ports.
The Director General of the National Agency for Poverty Eradication Programme, Dr. Magnus Kpakol, whose agency is handling the project, said the vehicles would have been distributed to the states if not for the delays, at the ports, in clearing the goods needed.
The negative effects of ports congestion on the economy are enormous. And for an economy that is tottering, desperate for growth, it is sad decisive steps have not been taken to address the problem once and for all. Apart from the demurrage incurred by importers over delays in offloading their goods, it disrupts the production schedule of manufacturers. Both have the unfortunate effect of adding to the already high production cost of manufacturers that have to provide their own infrastructure like electricity, water and even roads in some cases.
We are even aware that out of the fear that such importers incur such costs that make loan repayment difficult some banks are reluctant to lend to importers.
Various reasons have been adduced for the congestion that has refused to go away, and that has made the neighbouring port at Benin Republic attractive. But, even apart from the revenue loss, the use of the Benin port by Nigerian importers tempt them to smuggle some of their imports like cars into the country.
Several other reasons have been adduced for the current congestion. They include: the 30 percent increase in the container traffic between January to date in Lagos; tendency of some importers to use the stacking areas of the port for storage of their consignment; technical hitches experienced in the Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports which resulted in loss of some operational man hour; and the lack of sufficient capacity to handle the number of cargo traffic, especially container, in the nation’s seaports.
But by far, the single most unimaginable problem is the complex and bureaucratic clearing procedure. For decades, the case has always been made for government to cut down on the bureaucracy at the ports, but nothing serious is being done.
Operations at the ports have been privatised and one would have thought there would be some relief by now, but as the Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises, Mrs Irene Chigbue, has said that the 20 government agencies at the nation’s ports should be blamed for congestion, not terminal operators.
We do not see any need for this large number of government agencies at the ports, and the Federal Government should move quickly to reduce the number.
In desperation to ease the current problem, the Nigeria Ports Authority has introduced some palliative measures. They include the directives on “No vessel substitution” policy for any tanker vessel already on the queue to discharge any refined product; a performance parameter which stipulates the duration of time any carrying vessel shall spend at the port, and the reduction in the waiting time for containerised cargoes from 30 days to 14 days and at present nine days.
We commend these efforts of NPA, but it should ensure that the measures are enforced to the letter. As a government agency itself, NPA should work with the other government agencies to improve the situation, even as it continues work on the 25 year development master plan for the nation’s seaports.