By Omar Bah
The Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure has explained its controversial decision to license a private ferry company to operate between Banjul and Barra crossing points.
The plan, which is still under review by the Gambia Maritime Administration (GMA) is not supported by the Gambia Ferry Services management, who has reportedly reached out to President Barrow to complain about it.
According to our source, the ministry wants to sign a Joint Venture Agreement for the management and operation of ferries with a Turkish company.
The agreement will reportedly include downsizing of all the departments at the ferry services as well as sending all those who turned 40 years and above to voluntary retirement.
“The Turkish company is going to come with its own staff and the agreement will give them more monopoly over their Gambian counterparts. The Turkish company’s ferry also has the capacity of carrying 120 vehicles. If the agreement goes ahead the Gambian ferries will run out of service,” the source queried.
Our source said over 200 of Gambia Ferry Services’ 600 staff will lose their jobs under the agreement. According to the source, the ministry has tasked the Gambia Ports Authority managing director to facilitate the agreement on their behalf.
“When they called us to a meeting they put two conditions before us – which are to either work with the Turkish company or they will give them license to operate independently. We refused to accept the offer because it is not in the interest of the country,” our source said.
Reacting to the allegations, the permanent secretary ministry of works, Mod K Ceesay said it is true that the ministry has directed the Gambia Maritime Administration to review applications of several foreign ferry companies with the intention of awarding one of them a license to operate in The Gambia.
“What has happened is that when we started having issues with the current ferries we decided to conduct a situational assessment of the ferries in 2020 which established among other things that there were significant losses in 2019 of revenue, that the ferries were aging, there is no customer satisfaction, there is low technical capacity and too much dependency on GPA subsidies,” PS Ceesay told The Standard.
He said it is in fact the ferries management who advised the government based on the situational analysis report to go into Joint Venture Agreement for the management of the ferries. At that juncture, PS Ceesay referred The Standard to an advert dated 17 February 2021 which shows the Gambia Ferry Service expressing interest for Joint Venture Agreement for the management and operation of the ferries.
He said after the situational report both the ferries service and the GPA have made it clear that they don’t have money to address the challenges revealed in the report and the government was unwilling to support because it is preoccupied with building bridges.
“The government is now planning to close Basse and Fatoto and the next stop will be Bansang and hopefully within the next five years Banjul-Barra. This is the new direction the government wants to take to ease transportation in this country,” he said.
He said the ferry service was faced with the reality of reform in light of the evolution and development agenda of the government.
”So now that they don’t have the money to do that, we agreed during a meeting that they should venture into a joint agreement with a foreign company. But after these companies (Bahariye, MF Aziziye, MF Maradi, MF Selimiye, Negmaar Group and TATC among others) responded to the offer and things were finalized, the Ferry Services pulled out,” he said.
“They said it is not in their favour. This is what happened. It was after that that the same companies came back to suggest that they would want to secure licenses to operate as private companies. So we asked them to submit their applications,” he explained.
He said the Gambia Maritime Administration is currently reviewing the applications and will report back to the ministry with their findings on which company is the most qualified.
“But even after that, we still need to deal with the current Ferries Act which only mandates the Gambia Ferry Services to operate in Gambian waters,” he said.
PS Ceesay said the license will also have to go through cabinet ratification.
He said one of the companies has requested for the ferries management to grant landing permits while another one wants to construct its own landing sites at the Wharf Njago.
He said though the current management has taken the ferry service from crisis to near stability “the question is whether this is a temporary or durable solution”.