LIBERIA’S APM DILEMMA: ‘Worst Concession Ever’ More of a Curse Than Blessing

FROM BAD LABOR practices to allegations of overcharging Liberian businesses, APM Terminal has been in the news of late, for all the wrong reasons.

IN OCTOBER 2010, APM signed a 25‐year concession agreement for the operation of the Port of Monrovia in Liberia after it was named the preferred bidder for the port management and modernization project.

THE AGREEMENT for the port’s privatization resulted in the investment of $120 million USD in the facility over the course of the contract term.

AT THE TIME THE DEAL was consummated, APM declared that it had thoroughly investigated the needs of the Liberian market and was up to the task of serving the gateway into Liberia.

THE DECISION to privatize the port was in response to the urgent need for port infrastructure improvement, as the current facility was developed prior to containerized cargo transportation and requires investment in equipment and technology to bring the facility up to current industry standards.

TODAY, FRONTPAGEAFRICA has learned that there is only one working forklift at the port and are reportedly not berthing all vessels as required by the agreement.

THE PROBLEMS WERE more complicated last year when the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL) gave the government of Liberia and APM Terminals three days to address the delay in clearing containers from the Free Port of Monrovia.

AS FAR BACK as last year, brokers have been complaining that the situation has been creating serious embarrassment for them and their customers.

SADLY, THE NPA management continues to be mute on the matter and has failed to address the issues raised as it relates to the clearing of containers.

THE ISSUE has already generated the concerns of members of the national legislature. Since January, the plenary of the House of Representatives mandated its specialized committee probing into the operation of APM Terminals in Liberia to submit reports of its findings, which include a comparative analysis of the company’s operations in Liberia and the Republic of Ghana.

THE LOWER HOUSE’s move came as a result of APM Terminals’ increment of all current charges of its services at the Free Port of Monrovia. The company recently announced a 9.67 percent increment on all current charges of its services at the Free Port of Monrovia. With the increase, fees for clearing a 20-foot container is now US$207, up from US$189.

TO THE AMAZEMENT of many, the port operator said the increment was in line with its concession agreement with the government of Liberia which allows a 2021 tariff adjustment using predefined formula. The jump in taxes came on the back of another increment in 2020 and 2019, which has seen the company’s terminal handling charges increased significantly.

ON THURSDAY, Senators Edwin Melvin Snowe(Independent, Bomi) and Abraham Darius Dillon(CPP, Montserrado County) expressed regrets about the concession.

IT IS SAD that the concession ratified in 2010 has now resulted in a sea of regrets. Senator Snowe was then Representative of District #6 Montserrado County and a ranking member of the House of representatives under the Speakership of Alex Tyler when he voted for the concessions. Now he says, he regrets doing so.

SENATOR SNOWE, NOW SAYS, every time the name of the APM terminal concession is mentioned, he feels really bad. “The ill-treatment by APM terminal toward our people is bad. APM terminal is the worse concession we ever passed in this legislature I regret ever voting for the ratification of it and every time I hear about AMP terminal I get sick.”

REP. JEREMIAH KOUNG(Movement of Democracy and Reconstruction, Nimba County) who was elected after the ratification of APM terminal, said, the Company is behaving in that form and manner because of the too many rights given them in the law that establish the APM Terminal. “The law give too many liverish to the APM terminal. It gives them the right to change the tariff at any time and worse of all this concession cannot be amended until 25 years. If there is a way to amend that law lets do it now,” Koung said.

THE COMPANY’S WOES were deepened when on April 2021, the Ministry of Labour  ordered APM to reinstate effective immediately the twenty-four (24) suspended workers with all rights and privileges appertaining to the exercise of their respective functions, as is enshrined in the their respective employment contracts.

THE MINISTRY also lifted the suspension on the Dock Workers Union (DOWUL) and all its rights under the Labour Law of Liberia fully restored up to present the APM terminal is yet to act on the order of the Ministry.

DESPITE THE INTEREST in the APM issue from the national legislature, the Weah administration must go a step further by reading APM the riot act. A 25-year deal that is posing grave headaches for importers and business is not good for an economy in peril.

STRUGGLING LOCAL BUSINESSES and Diaspora Liberians barely able to clear their containers from the port is becoming a recurring problem that the government appears unable to solve to its own detriment.

WHEN LOCAL entrepreneurs and Liberians looking to return to home to restart their lives and give back to the community cannot find their way in a port system muddled by a bad, long-term deal, it spells bad news for the economy and even more danger for the government.

APM MUST be held accountable and made to adjust its measures causing heartaches and pains for Liberians at home and abroad, but most importantly for businesses, barely breaking even.

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