Row at GMA as  technical director advises gov’t not to grant operational ferry licence to  foreign investors

Oct 21, 2021, 11:47 AM | Article By: Sulayman Waan

Gambia Maritime Administration (GMA) head of technical department has advised the government of The Gambia not to grant licence to foreign investors to operate a private ferry between Banjul and Barra crossing point.

GMA advisory document, signed by Wandifa Saidyleigh, head of Technical Department and addressed to Office of the President (OP) and Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure (MOTWI) about Negmar Shipping and Investment Corporation application for a ferry operational licence states: “It is not advisable to grant operational licence to foreign investor to intervene in a domain that maybe regarded as cabotage area in many jurisdictions.”

It could be recalled that the MOTWI has directed the GMA to review applications of several foreign ferry companies and report back to government.

Therefore, after the review, Mr. Saidyleigh, maritime expert sent an advisory document to the OP and permanent secretary of (MOTWI) when the director general of GMA, Karamo B. Janneh was on tour with the president and deputy director on leave.

In the document, the maritime expert said: “The ramification of such a decision is high as no failsafe alternative would exist in the case of failure.” 

The Gambia Ferry Service (GFS) has three ferries operating between Banjul and Barra crossing points, namely: Johe, Kanilai and Kunta Kinteh but currently only Johe and Kunta Kinteh Ferries are plying and the Kanilai Ferry in on standby. 

However, Mr. Saidyleigh said: “The decision to support foreign intervention in the unique area of maritime transport should be based on the absence of viable local alternatives given the same level of independence. This has not been demonstrated in the business plan presented by Negmar Shipping and Investment Corporation.

Conversely, in the document, Mr. Saidyleigh advised government that the existing service delivery [GFS] should be tasked to improve, giving it all the dependence that efficient operation of vessels require whilst indigenous businesses are encouraged to consider the provision of such in the inland waters of The Gambia.

He added that like other maritime nations, The Gambia is poised to consider adopting proper laws for better protection of her citizens in respect of service delivery in special areas such as inland water and near coastal trade.

The maritime expert advised that the foreign investors may consider engaging in short international voyages between neighbouring countries in the region or investment in maritime manufactures such as shipyards after a careful study.

However, in a recent interview with a local newspaper, Mod K. Ceesay, PS of MOTWI, said the current Ferries Act only mandates the GFS to operate in Gambian waters.

Speaking to The Point a source at the Ministry of Transport Works and Infrastructure (MOTWI) told this medium that DG Karamo B. Janneh has attempted to retrieve the advisory document from the government but was not successful.

This reporter contacted Mr. Ceesay, MOTWI PS, to confirm whether Mr. Janneh has retrieved or attempted to retrieve the advisory document from MOTWI but said it is an internal matter which he cannot talk about and referred the reporter to GMA for confirmation.

Meanwhile, a letter dated 5 October 2021 signed by Karamo Bakary Janneh, director general of GMA and addressed to Wandifa Sandyleigh and seen by The Point, indicated that: “The Office of the Director General has received a copy of the above captioned letter submitted to PS MOTWI and dated 24th September 2021.”

It added: “My office regrets to inform you that your submission did not represent the position/opinion of the Administration as due diligence was not adopted.

“It is an unauthorised and clandestine submission without authority/approval of the Director General.”

 In the letter DG Janneh continued: “You (Wandifa Saidyleigh) hereby sanctioned to immediately withdraw the submissions made within 72 hours for redress by the management as a team. As the act is contrary to the SR of the Administration your failure to comply will leave the Office of the Director General with no other option but to take disciplinary action against you.”

In a subsequent letter from DG Janneh dated 8 October 2021 and addressed to Wandifa Saidyleigh, whose position has now changed to head of Maritime Environment and Governance, stated that the office has no other option but to institute sanction against Mr. Saidyleigh until he complies or apologies for his action.

DG Janneh- led office instituted the following sanction against Mr. Saidyleigh:

“All fora approvals for your attendance to represent GMA overseas are revoked; Any fora approval for your attendance which will be at cost to the GMA either financially or non hours are revoked; you are no longer authorised to communicate with outside stakeholders for the interest of GMA until duly sanctioned by director general. This communication is for all time in the media.

The letter further states that Mr. Saidyleigh is not allowed to sign any correspondence for outside stakeholders; “all international/ national correspondence that comes through you privately and being kept to yourself must stop with immediate effect. Ensure that such correspondences are directly addressed to the DG’s office and not your personal email address.”

“No more attending meetings with local or international stakeholders using any media by yourself alone. DG should be in the picture and the meeting should be attended by other relevant staff either in your department or other departments,” it ended.

A source close to GFS said it is not advisable for the Gambia government to issue an operation licence to any private company to operate between Banjul and Barra. The source justified that the GFS has improved in its services over the years.

“GFS is providing a ferry service that is relatively stable. And looking at traffic volume, two operators cannot work at the Banjul- Barra crossing points because the crossing point moves five million passengers yearly.”

“So, if those five million passengers are shared to two operators, then the foreign private company will not be able to generate enough revenue to sustain its services and at the same time GFS will also suffer because the revenue will drop to a point it becomes unsustainable,” the source noted.

Our source added if the ferry’s revenue reduces, the burden would be shifted to the commuters by increasing the fares between the two crossing points.

“If a private ferry is licenced to operate in these crossing points, then no doubt, GFS would be forced to increase its tariff and the private company will also increase its tariff in order to be sustainable. This is not good for the public,” he argued. 

Meanwhile, the source recommended that instead of licencing a private operator, the government should empower GFS by providing it with the necessary finance to be able to replace the ferries with new machineries as well as buying a new ferry because the Kanilai and Joke ferries are old.

The Point has tried to contact Mr. Karamo B. Janneh, director general of GMA for confirmation but proved futile at the time of going to press.