Lessen the Burden at Water Quay
It is not a secret, deep Water Quay is a mess. You do not need experts to tell you that. All you need to do is spend thousands of dollars to ship a container from the US with two cars in it, buy an expensive ticket, and travel to Freetown to claim your container. On the onset, everything looks clear and simple: Get your paperwork from the shipping company, go down to the quay and give your paperwork to an agent, get your container accessed, pay the duty in the bank, get your goods examined, and get your container released.
However, what happens in reality is a convoluted process that involves a bureaucratic bottleneck that houses a cabal of money hungry operators that are willing to sell their souls for Leones. These operators demand huge sums of money to build huge mansions or drive expensive cars at the expense of the innocent shippers and this is wrong.
To be fair, the work at the quay is hard and complicated. Unlike some parts of the world where most processes are automated, at the quay most of the processes are manual with clerks writing long receipts. Instead of paying online, one has to stand in line in the bank for up to an hour just to pay the different fees, and that is just the beginning. After the container is finally released, one then has to find a way to wiggle through the different gates that lead out of the harbour and each gate involves money. In my case, it took my agent and his staff more than twenty hours of hard work just to get the container finally released, and my boys and I had to wait at the putrid smoked-filled Bomeh near Ferry Junction for 20 hours to wait for our container to be delivered.
At the end of the process, one is left tired, frustrated and wondering if it is worth going through the ordeal to make a buck. However, this should not be the case. For a country like ours that depends on imports, Water Quay is the main hub of business, and the system should be cleaned up to accommodate more businesses to do business in Sierra Leone.
The problem in Water Quay is not lack of a process. Enter each agent’s office, and one will see a huge poster printed by the National Revenue Administration (NRA) that outlines the process involved in importing and exporting goods. If operators follow this process without tying it up for millions of Leones in bribes, the operations at the quay will be seamless and easy.
For Sierra Leone to increase its business inflow and encourage investors, the mess at Water Quay needs to be cleaned up. Chronic corrupt officials who prey on new business owners and demand millions of Leones to perform duties that they have been paid for should be terminated. There has to be constant oversight of the process to ensure that people who ship their goods get a fair treatment.
There has certainly been a huge improvement at Water Quay from the bad old days when whole containers used to disappear to the dark world of corrupt and heartless undertakers. Each container is now scanned to ensure that people do not ship illegal ammunition and other dangerous goods to the country. Unlike the bad old days, people now actually pay revenue to the bank, and that is getting millions of dollars for the government.
I cannot wait for the day when I will ship a container at Baltimore on March 1, get to Sierra Leone April 3, check online for the fees involved, submit my paperwork online, pay the necessary fees online, get a fair inspection of the goods, get the container released, and leave the quay, thanking God for a process that works. Those days will soon come if we all work together to improve the operations at Water Quay, gateway to Sierra Leonean business.
By Jacob Sax Conteh
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