STAKEHOLDERS have finally signed an accord to enable the clearing of goods at the port of Dar es Salaam to continue for 24 hours daily, implying working in three shifts for port officials, or a breadth of them. The move is likely to diminish the trend at avoiding the port of Dar es Salaam that was already catching up among neighbouring countries, as Dar port takes an average of ten days to offload cargo and place it on a waiting lorry, while Mombasa was working to reduce the five days it usually takes.It is a good step for the port, but challenges remain aplenty.

For instance, the port of Mombasa did not have to turn to 24 hours of operations to attain a five day clearance schedule of goods, in which case Dar port will have a lot to show if extending some haulage activities at the entrance to the harbour is all what is required to cut down waiting time. At an earlier period the union of agents for importers complained that the move to enable the port to work 24 hours sought to bring them to sign a series of documents as to the time limit they will take to fill forms, pay up various fees, etc and left other stakeholders unscathed. For instance it wasn’t said how long Tanzania Revenue Authority may take to clear containers.

Not much has so far been divulged as to the final terms and conditions which enabled agents for importing companies to sign on, but management reflection would suggest that they don’t have much to choose from. In the final analysis they are clients to the port, itself a government department and not a company like others, hence they have clearly limited avenue to make such an agreement really an accord, as different from a different set of regulations issued by TRA and TPA, the ports authority. That is what it finally comes to, and their signing is meant to make it official or formal that agents will be there at midnight if need be, to clear goods.

There are some aspects in port management which are unlikely to have been covered in this accord, and similarly, such limitations may also be expressed in a different manner when the port works 24 hours. By definition only officials who are absolutely necessary to offloading and clearing will be there, while others will work normal days, plus some overtime. It may open up quite a few ‘opportunities’ for things that would otherwise not have taken place to be okayed with some ease, as procedures of checking  with relevant officials are skipped, rather conveniently.

Analytically speaking, working outside normal time is a disruption of what is called a ‘systems approach’ to work, that is, making decisions in real time as more or less everyone is on the job at that time. It is hard to believe that taking containers out of port is something that concerns desk officials, frontline people that an importing agent meets, standing at the head of the container as it is being offloaded, There are plenty of regulatory matters that need a minimum of decision making which shall either be determined in the absence of the container being at hand for inspection, or other formulas being used, as inspections shall be reduced,

Even when inspections are not reduced, the number of those who are present and the manner in which they can share out work, their presence at the premises, is going to be somewhat altered, and all this leads to disruption of controls in one way or another. This is not however something to totally regret, as it represents something of systemic correction to excessive inspection at the port, meant to ensure that no ’rounding off’ of revenue occurs, that every cent has to be paid. Techniques where container goods are sampled and verified on that basis were put aside for actual inspection in a thorough manner, leading to overwork, exhaustion.

Working for 24 hours is more or less like there were two ports to be handled by the same TRA, whose officials concerned with imports in particular will definitely not be working 24 hours, and even if there is overtime for a series of clerical officials, the manner in which the forms are treated at a professional and regulatory level will have to change. In other words TRA is being compelled to adapt as it can’t just double its employees to cater for the ‘night shift,’ or the ‘night port’ just launched. Not only has it got to deliver with what it has, but also start looking for ways to deliver in the same way within normal working hours, so that procedures are properly followed, many of which aren’t easy to observe …under cover of darkness.