Of the NPA, the Predatory APM Terminals Concession Agreement and the Unexplained Death of Auditor Nyeswa

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Referencing the Moore-Stephens Report which revealed that 64 out of 66 concession agreements signed by the Sirleaf led government, the public is inclined to believe that the APM Terminals Concession agreement falls into that category of Concession agreements which failed to meet the mark of transparency, suggesting that they were indeed bogus agreements.

President Sirleaf, it can be recalled, touted the APM agreement as good for the National Port Authority (NPA) and the Liberian government. But if it were so indeed, why was the agreement not subject to public vetting but was indeed passed into law allegedly through the payment of bribes to legislators?

It suggests that there was indeed something troubling about the agreement which was kept under wraps to ensure it did not receive the kind of public attention and scrutiny it actually deserved.

Details of the agreement however remain unclear but, it appears that the Dock Workers Union’s strike over pay and benefits has forced the matter out into the open and promises to unwrap the cloak of secrecy in which the agreement has been shrouded.

The question being asked and rightly so is what benefits have actually accrued to this country as a result of the concession of the FreePort of Monrovia to a foreign corporation (MAERSK LINES) whose ships had berthed on a regular basis at the Freeport of Monrovia for well over fifty (50) years.

It was a customer in other words. But enter Madame Sirleaf as President of Liberia, a 30-yr concession agreement is granted to MAERSK Lines. The agreement was hailed as the best thing that could happen to the Freeport of Monrovia for, it promised the construction of modern facilities at the port, reinstallation of a “Shore Crane” destroyed during the civil war and repair of the quay.

More than ten years later, the FreePort of Monrovia is yet to see the construction of modern facilities including a modern and expanded container park aside from an office structure(3 storey) to accommodate its workforce. The promised shore crane is yet to come and the promised better wages and working conditions are yet to materialize.

For all intents and purposes, the agreement is predatory in nature. Prior to the agreement, the NPA was deriving revenue daily from ships berthing at its facility and using other services provided by the NPA.

Under the APM concession, a significant portion of the quay is cordoned off from the rest of the pier and that is where nearly all the ships coming to the Free Port are berthed, leaving the NPA with virtually nothing.

And so, from being a major contributor to the national budget, the NPA has now moved down the ladder as its revenue generating capacity has been seriously eroded by the operations of APM Terminals.

In President Sirleaf’s wisdom (Ellenomics) state owned enterprises posed a burden on the economy because they were inefficient and poorly managed and therefore privatization was the panacea. 

But after all these years, it is difficult discerning just what benefits has privatization of state-owned enterprises derived to the economy and ultimately to the benefit of the Liberian people.

Perhaps the lopsided nature of the predatory APM concession agreement which placed the NPA as a net loser may have spurred the NPA management into imposing what it called the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) levy. Under this arrangement, importers are required to pay a US$150 fee imposed on every container.

The proposal, not surprisingly, generated a lot of public debate with importers expressing opposition to the imposition of additional charges in addition to those paid to GoL revenue thru the Bureau Veritas (BIVAC) as pre-shipment inspection fees.

The CTN, according to informed sources (identities withheld) the scheme was the brainchild of a Lebanese national and a Sierra Leonean fraudster who had run a similar scheme in Sierra Leone but was later booted out of Sierra Leone after the imposition of a very heavy fine.

Together with others, including allegedly other top Lebanese importers, they ran the scheme. And according to sources, each partner in the unholy venture would receive a stipulated portion. At the time, Monrovia was abuzz with stories of President Weah’s alleged involvement in the scheme but which was vehemently and officially denied.

But according to informed sources, the NPA management was not living up to its side of the deal to pay dividends to other partners involved in the said deal. Finding himself under pressure to pay his co-conspirators which he was unwilling or unprepared to do, the key Lebanese partner allegedly pulled out of the deal, leaving everything in the hands of the NPA.

Despite such claims, sources say that those foreign businesses expressing opposition to the imposition of the extra tax were summoned to a meeting with then Commerce Minister Tarpeh and threatened with closure. An Indian businessman (identity withheld) was allegedly declared persona non grata and expelled from the country.

The then Chairman of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Wendell Addy, was also allegedly threatened with deadly reprisals and he subsequently, according to informed sources fled the country to the United States where he presently resides.

But government auditors, according to informed sources, allegedly discovered that the millions of dollars being derived from the scheme were not going into government revenue/consolidated accounts but into private pockets, with NPA management playing key facilitating roles.

And probably fearing that a possible leak of the information could prove damaging, attempts were made, according to sources, to silence all those believed to have had access to such information.

A source (identity withheld) however told a team of Daily Observer reporters who visited the scene that a high ranking government official was present at the home of the deceased on the night Nyeswa was killed, thus creating very strong suspicion that the said official could have been the mastermind or one of the masterminds of the suspicious death of auditor Nyeswa.

This latest development could very well prove to be the proverbial straw that broke the back of a camel because full exposure could be looming.

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