Within a short stint as the Managing Director of the National Port of Liberia, NPA, David Williams has improved the infrastructural and human resource capacities of the port. A guru in port management, he has rehabilitated the internal roads of the ports, beefed up its human resource reservoire and increased its efficiency and effectiveness. He spoke with ABUBAKAR HASHIM in his office in Monrovia on the journey so far, as the country celebrates 169th independence anniversary
Q: Let’s look at specific areas at the Port, beginning with the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) compliance. What have you done so far?
First of all, how did ISPS come about? In 2001, there was the terrorist attack in the United States, particularly New York and Washington. Since then, people got concerned about protecting ship owners and delivery of goods and services into and out of the country safely. This created the genesis for security compliance in all ports all over the world.
Since then, in particular November, last year, the US coast guard came in here to inspect our facilities in the Free Port of Monrovia, which is the gate way to the economy as well as the Port of Buchanan. The access to in and out of the Port and the protection of our water ways, in terms of security patrols and other measures put in place, in terms of fencing and number of personnel hired on security patrol on 24 hours around the Port, was successful, as required by the US Coast Guard. We also collaborated with the Liberian Maritime Institute. We have been successful, though we have a few challenges, in terms of continuity and sustainability of achievements so far.
We have therefore embarked on training of our personnel on ISPS compliance issues. So also, those concessionaires operating within the Port also comply with the ISPS codes, for instance APM terminal as well as Fire Stone, Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, LPRC and others. They all have to be ISPS compliant.
What has been the status of the Internal Roads within the Port and what are you doing to ensure that they are up to standard to facilitate trade?
I used to work here from 1979 to 1990. Then the war came in. Since then, there has been no improvement on the internal roads of the Port. This has caused a lot of mayhem, creating health and safety issues. Also, this creates congestion in the port. Everything becomes slow as a result of the challenge. This has impact on the turn around time in port operations.
What have we done about this challenge? We have put together a group of our managers, we had a think- tank, a rigorous discussion on the compelling need for the rehabilitation of the internal roads of the port. We began the process by engaging our Board of Directors, to explain to them on the need to improve this area of our operation. It was approved, through series of procurement processes. We have already selected the vendor and identified the independent contractor. The process itself had started. The independent consultant engineers as well as the contractor are fully engaged right now. The present challenge that we have is the rains. It is our expectation that by April of next year, the internal road of the Port, about 2.4 km, will be completed.
What about the storage facilities, for instance the renovation of warehouses and other infrastructural projects like administrative offices within the Ports? The issue of warehousing, we are engaging customers of the Port to focus on building warehousing outside of the Port. The focus now is towards containerization. The projection by APM Terminal is that we expect to get 100,000 TEUs at the end of the year. So they are going to expand their container yard. So the need to build warehouses outside the Port so we can have more space for container operation. In the past, we used general cargoes but presently, we use containerized cargoes. It makes the port more responsive and competitive.
How are the human capacity development at the Port? Yes, infrastructure is needed. But without human development, there are bound to be severe challenges. How many employees are getting training to ensure effective performance of their duties?
I agree with you. The issue of training is essential in any organization, particularly the Port industry. I will also agree with you that with all the infrastructural development at the Port, without a trained manpower, it will be lopsided. It may end up in bringing experts to do your work. In April 2015, we did a management retreat. Training is one key area we identified. We have trained our personnel in Marine operations and in different categories of port operations. We can make the figure of personnel training available to you. But the issue of training is paramount in our port operations. We are passionate about it.
The Human Resource Department, which is responsible for hiring and retaining the right caliber of employees, building manpower development and providing welfare, has stepped up its human resource development planning strategy, in collaboration with the Training Department, to ensure that employees are given the necessary training skills and knowledge required to maximize their potentials for effective performance of their duties and functions.
In 2015, these two departments jointly teamed up in a pilot assessment exercise to ascertain and determine the human resource gap within the four ports network so as to provide appropriate training that would help sharpen and improve skills that can immediately be applied at work. Upon completion of the need assessment, there were several local training workshops, seminars, short term courses including international trainings provided for employees of the National Port Authority to strengthen their personal and professional development and as well equip them with the needed skills and knowledge to match up with the entity’s organizational needs.
The first trainings were conducted for 94 personnel, comprising contractors and employees in basic report writing, computer software and database, purchasing and supply chain, monitoring and evaluation, record management, money and banking, customers service, work planning, master payroll and small boat operations. This was meant to boost efficiency, ensure optimal performance on the job. At the same time, 61 employees also underwent professional certificate and diploma training courses at the Liberia Institute for Public Administration in Public Procurement, Public Sector Budgeting, Banking and Finance and Project Planning on a rolling basis. Most of the candidates have graduated and are efficiently contributing to their respective department in a positive way.
In addition, nine employees were sent abroad for short courses and professional international studies in Port Management, Port Finance and Public Private Partnership Investment, Human Resource Management, Sea Port Management and Public Procurement. These trainings took place in South Africa, Ghana, China and Israel, through partnership arrangements and as part of the National Port Authority budgetary allocations and programmatic plan to broaden employees’ horizon in key areas of functions. Besides, management provided subsidies for transportation allowances, incidentals and stationeries to ensure that employees are stress-free while attending classes and trainings.
The installation of navigational ends at sea ports is crucial toward a successful port operation. What is your administration doing in this regard? For nearly 30 years, we have not had navigational aids. This system allows the Port to operate at nights, to operate 24 hours. The Port has not been operating full 24-hour shift, but 12-hour shift. So, a ship comes in and completed work by 6 pm, that ship cannot leave till the following morning. This makes the port unattractive, with its attendant demurrage charges as a result of the slow turn around of the vessels.
So, it became imperative that we did this. So, as at May 2016, the free port of Monrovia is now operating 24 hours. You can take a boat ride with the public relations crew to take a look at the navigational aids at the port.
What do you envisage the port to be in the immediate future?
I envisage the National Port Authority of Liberia to be one of the premier Ports in West Africa. Giving our fiscal situation, the Port cannot be isolated from the national economy. The prices of rubber and iron ore, our major sources of revenue, have depleted. Arcellor Mittal, the iron ore conglomerate, operates in the port of Buchanan. We have China Union here in Monrovia. They also operate iron ore jetty here, basically exporting iron ore.
As a result of international prices of iron ore falling, the demand for iron ore is less. So this is impacting national revenue.
The approach we are using in the Port is the Public Private Partnership (PPP) strategy. We are discussing with Bollore Africa logistics, to form a joint venture with the Port of Buchanan. Similarly, we are in partnership with Golden Veroleum Multinational Oil Palm Company at the Greenville Port for the same PPP strategy.
We then approached the Public Debt Unit, PDU, the National Investment Commission, NIC, to explain the need to take a PPP approach for port operations. The Oil Palm Mill Company in Greenville is in the process of building an oil mill to export. They need a cargo dedicated to their sense of activity. We don’t have that money, so we will partner to undertake this venture. So also, when Iron Ore prices stabilize, we need an iron ore jetty. So, we need partners in these processes.
They agree with us. They gave us a concession certificates, for the Port of Greenville. We are in the process of doing an expression of interest for the Port of Greenville. We now have 13 companies interested in the Port of Greenville.
The way we are going to achieve that premier status of the port, to make it competitive in West Africa, is to do these things on an incremental basis. Port activities are highly capital intensive. One new tug boat is about $9 million. We got loan from Kuwait. In about a month or two, we will have two tug boats to operationalize the port. So we are doing the processes on an incremental basis, to get to where we want to be, to be the premiere Port in West Africa and to bring back the status of the Free Port of Monrovia, prior to the war, as the trans-shipment hub for all of West Africa. Goods came in here and re-directed to other West African countries. We lost that trade because of the civil crisis. We want to get that back. We will do it gradually. We remain committed in setting a base line for growth in accordance with the 2035 Master Plan.