Why electronic cargo tracking faces opposition

Some shipping companies and individuals alleged to have been benefiting from loopholes at the Dar es Salaam Port are behind a spirited campaign to halt implementation of a system to monitor inflow of cargo, sources say.

Soon after the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) announced it was adopting an electronic cargo tracking note (e-CTN), several players have come out strongly to oppose the move aimed at ensuring safety, availability of accurate statistics of cargo and curbing tax cheats.

The e-CTN is an official maritime document that contains information related to cargo and its movements between ports.

The Tanzania Shipping Agents Association (TSAA), which three years ago drummed support for introduction of the service and went even further to enter into a contract with a French-based company to implement the service is now opposed to it.

Our sources allege that the adoption could mean a big blow to a well-functioning cabal which benefited from malpractices at the Dar es Salaam Port like theft and under-declaration of cargo which Transport minister Dr Harrison Mwakyembe is on the verge of cleaning up.

Clearing agents, shipping lines and individual businessmen are opposed to the tracking system. However, the chairman of the Tanzania Clearing and Forwarding Association (Taffa) Mr Stephen Ngatunga, dismissed the allegations of crooked interests on the part of the agents.

The Taffa boss told The Citizen yesterday that they were opposed to the way the decision to adopt the system did not engage all stakeholders and that the move would increase the cost of doing business. “The decision was unilateral… and there is going to be an extra-charge of $400 on each imported container. This is going to scare away businesses from our port,” said Mr Ngatunga.

And the TSAA secretary, Mr Peter Kirigini, also complained of lack of consultations, arguing that stakeholders, including the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) which regulates the shipping industry, were not consulted.

Reacting for the first time to the criticism, TPA acting director general Madeni Kipande, said the hostile reaction to the implementation of e-CTN was nothing but an expression of shock by unexpected sealing of loopholes for manipulation at the Dar es Salaam port.

“I don’t think they wish this nation progress. They are lobbying everywhere to halt this plan, for they know its adoption will mean no more theft, forgery and manipulation as it used to be in the past,” apparently upset Kipande told The Citizen.

According to the TPA boss, the authority cannot afford to operate without a system that would help control government revenue at the port, curb theft of cargo and enhance national security.

TPA has for the last one year recorded great achievements in revenue collection and clearance of cargo at the Dar es Salaam port.

In less than a year after Dr Mwakyembe sacked its top management early this year on allegation of abuse of office and under performance, revenue collection at the port has gone up from Sh24 billion to Sh42 billion a month.

Cargo thefts, corruption and inefficiency at the port had scared many traders from using the port.

Introduction of the e-CTN is part of Dr Mwakyembe’s campaign to improve revenue collection at the port by sealing loopholes unscrupulous businessmen used, in collusion with dishonest officials at the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the port and clearing agents, to deny the government of revenues.

Another official at the Dar es Salaam Port told The Citizen that they anticipated strong resistance to the electronic cargo tracking system.

“Containers were being stolen…we had to pay compensation; there was a lot of under-declaration of goods. So this is an explanation for the protest …the system is going to put fraudsters at bay,” said the source who asked not to be named.

Reacting to claims that key players, including Sumatra, were not consulted, Mr Kipande said: “TPA doesn’t have to seek approval from Sumatra to nab thieves. Adoption of e-CTN is TPA’s issue which I know it is outside Sumatra’s legal mandate.”

Mr Kipande insisted that the system was critical for improving TPA’s revenue. “All successful ports across the world have adopted this system,” he insisted.

Mr Kipande said the contract has no cost implications as some stakeholders want the public to believe.

TPA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a Belgium-based company Antaser Afrique to implement the service.

Ghana became the first African country to adopt e-CTN in the first quarter of last year. Some port stakeholders, however, have questioned TPA’s move to engage Antaser Afrique while in 2011 the authority rejected a similar offer from France-based Phoenix Cargo Security Ltd.

But The Citizen has learnt that TSAA, which now opposes the system last year, entered into agreement with Phoenix in June last year to operate the cargo tracking service. Since then the agreement has not come into force; and circumstances leading the implementation delay have not been sufficiently explained.

“Phoenix was scheduled to make some more presentations on the system, Suddenly TPA came with their man,” said TSAA chairman Emmanuel Mallya.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Bernard James, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 
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