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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ports MD forecasts bright prospects after gloomy Al Jazeera report

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By Alagie Manneh 

A report by Al Jazeera network Sunday painted a gloomy prospect for The Gambia’s sea trade industry, but the managing director of the Ports Authority insists all is not lost.

According to Al Jazeera, the country is paying a steep price for poor infrastructure at the port amid limited space and shortage of much-needed investment, leading to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year.

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And as neighbouring countries such as Senegal modernise and expand their port operations, there are fears that The Gambia will lose more customers to the competition, Al Jazeera reported.

But the managing director of the Gambia Ports Authority, Ousman Jobarteh, disagreed, and painted a brighter future for the sea trade.

“For 2020, we just recently made a presentation of dividends to government that the profits in the ports had increased from the previous year – 2019 – to levels that we were able to pay 95 million dalalsis as dividend. For 2021 accounts, which is still a draft, we expect the profit-after-tax to further increase. My impressions are that the allusion therefore for the losses maybe at the microeconomic level, but not to the ports per se, that the ports is not viable and is not profitable,” MD Jobarteh said, in an interview with Coffee Time on West Coast Radio. 

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He added: “The figure also mentioned [in the Aljazeera story] about the investment that is required is referring to the option of constructing a deep-sea port along the southern coast lines of the country which is compared against the 121 million that the master plan has recommended, to extend the facility in Banjul for the next 20 years. Because it does not make a strong case to invest 500 million in a deep-sea port when according to demand studies for the next 20 years does not justify that level of investment. That’s why we are concentrating on expanding the ports in its present location in Banjul as per the recommendations of the master plan.”

He admitted the “severe congestion” including other issues underpinning the river-port, saying they are “public knowledge”.

He linked the congestion to the increase in trade activities. “And now, because of Covid, we have a three percent drop in volumes based on the forecast expected. Nonetheless, the opportunity is still there to regain our domestic cargo and also the transit business because most of the goods that come into the country goes to third countries by way of transport, cross border and re-export and transit trade. What we are doing right now is to implement operational efficiency improvement measures.”

However, he noted: “The figures we have received so far between the months of May and June, have showed a positive sign that the congestion is easing. Prior to May, we had 21 days on average for containers waiting at the anchorage before they can access the dock. By end of May it dropped to 14 days. As we speak for the month of June this year, things are improving. The figures we have as at this month, is that the average taken time for containers is seven days. So, gradually, we are improving on our efficiency which also will reduce congestion and make us regain our volume. And the ship calls also in terms of volume has started increasing. That’s a positive sign. Hopeful that by the turn of the year, there would be increased visibility about the project implementation stages which would ensure that the port regain its competitive advantage.”

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