The Acting General Manager for the Sierra Leone Port Authority(SLPA), Captain Hubert Bloomer has disclosed to Awoko that, when he took over, he inherited a whopping sum of Le 1.8 billion as debts for the hiring of cargo handling equipment since the port lacks such equipment.
Speaking during an interview at his Cline Town office, Captain Bloomer said, he had to do some calculations and renegotiate the hiring fees and do some adjustment to the rates that they charge for some of the services they provide and as such, he has tried to liquidate the debts.
“We [Port Authority] have paid around 1.4 billions Leones and I think that is not a bad deal for the period”, he boasted.
According to Captain Bloomer, the Port Authority earns money from the services it renders to ships and it is supposed to be a profit making entity. Over the years he said, as a result of cost associated with personnel, which represents over 65% of the revenue, most funds earned go into running the Authority and the payment of staff.
“We spend over 15% of our funds on hiring cargo handling equipment. We have not been making the amount of profit that should normally be associated with the Port Authority” he disclosed.
Speaking on the general staff issue at the Sierra Leone Port Authority, Captain Bloomer said, the port is the largest employer in the country with a staff of almost 2,500. This he said, “includes permanent staff, casual staff and irregular-casual as we call it, and when we put all of them together, our wage bill is enormous”.
The Sea Port, is a labour intensive entity he said adding that they are trying to modernize the port. He said, Management’s association and relationship with the workers has been encouraging and that they [SLPA Management] have been meeting from time to time to discuss with problems with the staff and other related issues.
Having acted for the past five months, he disclosed that, things have not been very easy because he took over the Authority at a time when the finances were very low and morale of the staff was also low. “The situation of cargo handling equipment was also very serious. The port has no handling equipment for containers and other cargoes.”
On what has been done by management to handle such issues, Bloomer said, he has negotiated the terms under which the SLPA hire equipment and “we were able to bring down the prices. I was able to bring down the cost of hiring a particular set of equipment from US$50 an hour to US$25 an hour. Another set from US$150 to US$15”, he said.
He said, when he took over as Acting General Manager, good amount of revenue being earned by the port goes towards paying staff cost and paying for the hiring of cargo handling equipment and as such, he had to do some calculations to see how that could be handled.
Speaking on the clarion call by the President for a change of attitude, Bloomer said, it has been a very positive move by the president and that, “from our own side, it has been brought to the attention of the general work force and to all staff members so that it trickles down to our mindset”.
In his words “We are mindful of our responsibility. The Port is a gateway to the nation’s economy and also a gateway and reflection of the country to foreign ships and people coming to Sierra Leone. We want all workers to be aware of this and to behave in a manner that will depict the positive aspect of Sierra Leone”, he said.
Bloomer also spoke on his challenges which he said, is to see the port is transformed, modernized and becomes the envy of other ports in West Africa. “We want to make Freetown the least cost port, the hob port, and a transshipment port. We want to make Freetown a place where investors can come in and invest”, he said. By John Baimba & Abibatu Kamara