APM Terminals operating at the Freeport of Monrovia has come under accusation by importers and truckers for what they call “delay tactics” to extort money from them.
At a meeting with Commerce Minister Axel Addy, hosted by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, May 28, importers and other business entrepreneurs poured out their greivnces against Freeport operator APM Terminals, citing “delays in clearing containers, resulting in extra charges for storage as a way of making double profits.”
They said APM Terminals did not have enough loading machines and forklifts to load and offload containers swiftly, but would charge for storage that comes as a result of its own lack of capacity to robustly operate the port.
The importers, many of who said they had 30 to 150 containers stocked up at the Free Port of Monrovia, complainded that most of them have paid the fees required, but APM Terminals has failed to release their containers in a timely manner; a situation they claim put the company in the position to charge an extra fee of US$21.50 per day per continer.
“The longer the containers stay at the port after the clearing day, US$21.50 is paid per day, and where will people get such money from to be paying for a company’s negligence?”, one importer asked.
Another importer expressed agitation to Minister Addy that a ticket system was introduced so that container owners may obtain a ticket and be served on a “first come first serve basis,” but when the tickets are taken from them, they remain standing in line all day long without service.
The importer, who sells general merchandize, said when work at the port comes to an end in the afternoon, instead of APM Terminals taking responsibility for said delays; importers are made to pay storage fees.
In his reaction to the allegations, the chief financial officer of APM Terminals, Robert Maxwell, attributed the cause of the delay the truck drivers.
He also noted that because APM Terminals is working to modernize the facility, there is not enough space for trucks to enter for loading and offloading.
He further stated that the company had about five machines for loading and offloading, but two were down due to mechanical problems.
“It is not true,” a trucking company owner contended, “My trucks joined the queue with other trucks and it took more than two days. And when you issue tickets and they are taken from us, we remain standing the whole day without service until your working day ends. And because you took our tickets, there is nothing to prove that our truckers were even in the line.”
The importers, in a collective view, said APM Terminals was deceiving the Minister and the only way to ascertain the fact was for Minister Addy visit the Free Port to verify the information.
“APM Terminals does not even have equipment for loading; it has about two to contend with the huge number of customers and because it is the only company, it intentionally delays to extort money from us.”
Upon hearing the complaints explained that APM Terminals contract in Liberia is based on concession agreement that the Ministry of Commerce does not have unilateral control over, as it does with other commercial businesses.
However, as the complaints intensified, he promised to tour the facility the following day, May 29.
During his visit, truckers at the port forwarded the complaint that APM Terminals delays in getting them in for loading and at most times they spend the day in the fence.
“When they finish wasting our time and their working time is over, they will again charge us. This is not fair on the part of this company, and they are just doing this to get more money from us,” a representative of truckers stressed.
Drivers who were allowed in at the time of Minister Addy’s visit said since they were logged in at about 8 a.m. up to mid-day, they were confined in the fence without water to drink, and were also finding it difficult to ease themselves.
When Minister Addy inquired about APM Terminals’ Corporate Social Responsibility to customers, a staff of the company, Mohammed Lavalie, said they are in the process of ordering materials that customers can use when they attend nature’s call.
Prior to and following Minister Addy’s tour of the facility, he held two separate meetings with the management of APM Terminals, but did not disclose to this newspaper the outcome of his visit.
Nevertheless, Minister Addy during the tour told the APM Terminals management that failing to publish through radio and newspapers a new policy and system to customers for their awareness is one problem causing discontentment.
He urged APM Terminals’ management to establish a public relations department that will be responsible to coordinate information between management, the customers and general public for better understanding and cooperation.