Monrovia — The cost of shipping containers to Liberia is at an all-time high for many Liberians either looking to move home or bring in containers for business. Sekou Dukuly, the new head of the National Port Authority, appointed by President Joseph Boakai last week, says, the dilemma facing scores of Liberians, will be high on his agenda as he assumes command of the port.
“I am particularly aware of the challenges and bottlenecks at the NPA. I have shipped things quite too many times, especially my car, personal belongings, and furniture. I know how stressful it was to clear those things from the port,” Dukuly told FrontPageAfrica Monday.
Dukuly, who describes himself as an entrepreneur, says he is aware about the importance of customer service. “When we take care of our customers effectively, they will be happy to do business with us, which will trickle down to the economy. I started work Friday, 2/2/2024. The first order of business is to meet with the management team and then ordinary employees. We will review our system and processes and do what is necessary to streamline our system to make it easier for people to do business with us. I can assure you that there won’t be any business like usual.”
Shipping Cost runs from $2k to 15K.
As Dukuly and his team ponder how to deal with the high cost of container shipping, the issue of duties or tariffs on exports and imports have been largely blamed for shipping costs.
On average, most Liberians pay between US$2,000 – US$15,000 to transport a container from the United States, China, and other countries. Why are the costs of transporting goods so high? Business analysts say, there are always obstacles in the way of trade, and the high cost of transporting goods is one of them.
While the high cost of transporting goods in Africa has improved, some 41 of the 55 African countries have ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area, which facilitates intra-regional trade and promote economic development in the African regions.
While many countries on the continent have implemented dual measures to reduce tariffs and “non-tariff barriers” in order to reduce the cost of transporting goods by ships, Liberia is still lagging behind.
For Dukuly, the key to fixing the existing issues he is inheriting is not only the Freeport of Monrovia. “We have to look at the root causes. Which system is efficient, and which one creates redundancy? When we eliminate these superficial and extra layers that have been created, will our system work well or thrive better? These are the tasks assigned to my team and me to deliver within the next 90 days.”
In Liberia, each container carries an import tax on foreign goods imported into a country levied by Ministry of Finance and the Liberia Revenue Authority. Globally, every country and even state or province has a different import tax rate, name, and criteria.
There’s also a De minimis or “minimal things” tax on the price threshold before taxes or duties are applied to imports. For example, in Australia, a 10% tax is applied to all transactions above their 1000 AUD de minimis. In Liberia, importers pay seven percent.
Then there is the landing cost which is the total amount charged to ship items to their destination, which combines shipping, taxes, duties, fees, insurance, and the cost of the item. Import tax may be applied only to the product, but sometimes it’s applied to the product, shipping, and other fees.
Headaches for Consumers
All these costs are added headaches on struggling consumers, who barely make profit on their containers once they arrive.
President Boakai stirred a surprise with the appointment of Dukuly. With a reported twelve persons eyeing the post, Dukuly a relative outside emerged as unlikely appointment.
The new Managing Director hails from the Suehn Mecca District in Bomi County and says he grew up right in Monrovia. “I went to Muslim Congress High School on Mechlin Street, and I was a beneficiary of the prestigious J.J. Scholarship Fund. “I competed against some of the best students across the country during my quizzing days and was fortunate to travel to the United States where I earned my undergraduate degree in Accounting and my MBA in entrepreneurship. I worked in Corporate America, but I pride myself as a system builder. Between 2016 and 2020, I built my own companies and created employment for 100s of Liberians and other immigrants in Minnesota, USA.
On how he slipped under the radar to and swept by a sea of people hoping to get this post, Dukuly says: “I am not the loudest in the room. Yes, people may not have seen me on talk shows and giving interviews, but we all played a critical role behind the scenes in the last two years that culminated in the victory of the Unity Party. Like all the silent voters of Liberia, we are pivotal to the electoral success of our leader, President Joseph Nyumai Boakai, Sr. I have been here in Liberia with my family for the last three years. I live in Duarzohn. Nothing mysterious here. I am grateful and honored by the confidence reposed in me by the President, and I intend to do outstanding things at our ports. I encourage you to follow on this journey of doing the Liberian people’s work and restoring the confidence of businesses in our port system.”
Aware of Scrutiny that Comes with Job
While acknowledging that he is a private individual, Dukuly readily admits that public service requires scrutiny. “Some people may be acting out due to a lack of knowledge. People often speculate when they don’t know or have little information. I have lived in Liberia with my family for two-three years. I have a home in Brewerville, a land I bought from the late Rev. Jeremiah Walker more than twenty years ago. I also have a home in Duazohn. I have business interests in Liberia, including supporting mechanized farming in Gbarpolu to help employ Liberians. I have had investors come into the country to explore some of these projects. Agriculture is big on the President’s agenda. I want to make it easy for people to come and invest in our country. Our ports play a critical role in Liberia’s investment climate. Our people deserve better.”
Since assuming office, Dukuly says his team has begun reviewing the port’s system and processes. “I will review the scorecard and balance of our entity and ensure that I hear from everyone, including our most important people, the ordinary employees. We will form a robust team as we address the issues affecting our immediate customers and the larger business community.”
On the challenges he foresees, Dukuly says he indulges in a glass-half-full perspective of any challenge. “The challenges are our ports are opportunities awaiting us to do better. We have to change the culture of doing business and restore confidence in our system so that it works for every businessperson regardless of their status in Liberia. Together we can do this.”