President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Mr William Ruto, visited the port of Mombasa soon after they were elected in March 2013.
Stakeholders interpreted this as an indication of dynamic leadership that was keen on having a hands-on approach to national issues.
The previous government had embarked on an impressive reform programme aimed at transforming the port, which was reeling under financial crisis and inefficiency.
The quality of services at the port had hit rock bottom, leading to massive congestion and delays in delivery of cargo from vessels. Importers had to pay vessel operators delay surcharges.
Due to the resulting high cost of importing goods through Mombasa, some shippers had turned to ports such as Dar es Salaam and Tanga in Tanzania.
To improve the situation, efforts were made by the port community.
The Kenya International Freight & Warehousing Association (Kifwa) was among the groups that demanded government intervention to sort out the problems that seemed to have overwhelmed the port’s management.
Eventually, the government sought to formally engage with the private sector to address the challenges.
Several measures were taken with the aim of improving the port’s capacity to handle the increasing number of vessels and enhance cargo off-take from the port.
First, the government allowed the establishment of container freight stations (CFS) to be operated by the private sector.
The 14 CFSs operate as extensions of the port and handle imports and transit cargo, including containers, conventional cargo, and motor vehicles.
Second, the port authority purchased new equipment to handle cargo at its container terminal. A modern and relatively more efficient IT system was procured to replace the manual financial accounting and documentation processes.
The port also embarked on projects to extend its berths to accommodate bigger vessels and build a second container terminal.
Third, all the providers of essential services agreed to embrace a 24-hour operation strategy in order to be available to shippers around the clock.
Fourth, and most significantly, the port community adopted a port service charter, which bound and committed the various stakeholders, both from the public and private sectors, to adhere to certain key performance indicators aimed at improving and sustaining delivery of services.
While some of these efforts have yielded results, there is still an urgent need for the government to seriously look into pertinent issues related to the enforcement of regulations, which is its mandate.
Most of the port’s tribulations stem from the government’s bureaucracy and failure to curb impunity within its ranks. The government must spare no effort to safeguard the gains attained.
The port city’s infrastructure and road network is now getting choked due to illegal structures and unchecked business practices.
To forestall the looming crisis, Kifwa suggests that the government take certain measures, including freezing the licensing of more CFSs and moving those operating within the port or on the Makupa Causeway to the mainland.
The mushrooming of CFSs is one of the main causes of frequent traffic snarl-ups on the busy highway.
Second, the Cabinet secretary for Transport should gazette regulations for CFS operations. Some CFS operators are overcharging for the services they provide since they are technically autonomous entities.
Third, the government should seek a solution to the long-standing court case filed by multinational shipping lines concerning the Kenya Maritime Authority regulations.
Since the regulations were suspended, indiscipline has increased, with some shipping lines now operating clearing and forwarding firms and CFSs, which the regulations forbade.
Four, the government should urgently develop a policy framework to formally constitute a consultative forum between the public and the private sectors under the auspices of the port community and for the implementation of the port service charter.
Currently, top government officials do not take seriously the resolutions of stakeholders’ forums.
Source: Daily Nation
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