- Read the interview of Patrice MELOM, General Manager of PAK, setting the course for 2021 ?
I am not going to be modest because the truth is that the year ended on a satisfactory note. Generally speaking, we achieved our objectives and sometimes even went beyond them. So, there is reason to be satisfied. I would also like to point out that PAK is still a young company that is still laying its foundations. We are experimenting with various approaches that are yielding good results. Much remains to be done, but what we have laid as a foundation gives us reason to believe that the construction will be sustainable.
- Can we have some statistics?
Of course! We had hoped for 376 ship calls in 2020 and this figure was exceeded, reaching 457. Revenues from operations are as expected, and by extension, customs revenues, which are an excellent indicator of the economic vitality of the traffic transiting through the port, amount to about CFAF 70 billion by the end of 2020. This is absolutely not negligible, since we started from one billion annual revenue without the Port in 2017, to 9 billion in 2018. A first year in which we only operated for nine months. In 2019, which was the Port’s first full year of operation, customs still recorded 24 billion. Yet it was a very difficult year for PAK because of the closure of the maritime service connected directly to Asia, on which we had high hopes. We had to make huge investments in terms of promotion to keep our heads above water. And this time, at the end of 2020, revenue stands at 70 billion. This progression shows that there is enough activity in the Port of Kribi.
- Does that mean that PAK was not impacted by COVID-19 ?
PAK did not escape the shake-up, but we managed to mitigate the effect of the health crisis. As I said earlier, the most illustrative indicators show that traffic forecasts have been met, new operators have continued to set up, be they farmees or agents, and finally, new shippers and receivers have put their trust in the Port of Kribi. This is due to the fact that we quickly put in place a response plan that included a strategic readjustment, which allowed achievements to match forecasts. However, we should not believe that the pandemic has not impacted us, far from it. On the contrary, we would have wanted to and could have done better, if there had been no disease. Because we were working to increase domestic import/export traffic and also to speed up the deployment of industries and logistic service providers in the area around the Port.
- The year 2020 started with the implementation of the Port Information System (PIS). Can we say today that the Port of Kribi is a Port connected to its entire community?
Absolutely! The SIP is one of PAK’s proudest achievements at this stage. We may not talk about it enough yet, but it will happen. I can already rejoice that in a very short time, PAK has succeeded in setting up digital tools that will enable the company to be efficient and to control its environment in the Port area. The SIP in Kribi is now a reality. Its implementation is being done gradually, module by module, but there are already many activities that pass through this channel: access, ship management, cargo management and others. There are interfaces with Camcis from Customs and E-GUCE from the Single Window. All the stakeholders are informed and use this platform, which is becoming a must. Our employees are committed to training all partners in its use and monitor them. We are working very closely to iron out the difficulties that arose at the beginning and everyone can see how things are becoming simpler over time. We have real reason to be optimistic about the potential of this tool, which is not static but improves over time. It can be adapted to users’ needs and facilitates working conditions. In terms of load control, this is a major revolution that is redefining the trades and missions of operators. We are convinced that this irreversible choice, which inevitably implies a difficult and tiring period of transition and assimilation, is the price to be paid to allow our port to make the qualitative leap to modernity.
- What about physical connectivity via roads?
This is the big point for improvement, the weak link in our port. Although our influence in this area is rather limited, we will continue to multiply the search for solutions and lobbying actions, because this is an issue that falls within the purview of the government’s prerogatives. And we all know that our country, like every other country in the world, is suffering the effects of an international financial crisis. However, there is reason to hope that the State will keep its commitments to the end, notably by improving the Edéa-Kribi road service in a more or less sustainable manner. Moreover, the Ministry of Public Works has recently assured us once again that the roads will be improved in the short term. In the longer term, it will mean completing the construction work on the Lolabe-Kribi-Edea highway. We will also mention the Kribi-Ebolowa road construction project, for which work is expected to start this year. These are all prospects that will certainly help to retain the stream of investors who are rushing here every day in Kribi.
- 2021 has started, what is the annual challenge for PAK?
We will have to maintain what has been achieved. Gradually, people are learning to count with the Port of Kribi. It is an asset to be maintained. It goes through the quality of service, which we must continue to improve. We must satisfy the needs of our clients, who are growing in number. The challenge will therefore be to exist in a better way, to attract more volumes, to have more domestic traffic than transhipment, so that the Port can be afloat and contribute more to the emergence of the national economy. We have several projects to follow, namely the creation of the logistics and industrial zone, which is a flagship project. There is the phase 2 extension of the port that we are following up so that it evolves in an optimal way, as well as the water and energy supply projects. These are big challenges because more investors are knocking on the door and requiring all these basic services to be able to invest and settle in Kribi. Finally, I am not forgetting the CSR actions that are particularly important to us. Even more attention than in previous years will be paid to implementing qualitative actions that are beneficial and favourable to all the local communities.
- How far have you gone with the free zone project?
It is already necessary to understand that a logistics and industrial zone is a facility for the establishment of operators. The free zone or economic zone is going to be a status given to this logistics zone. PAK is indeed working with the government to obtain this status, at the same time as we are looking for financing for the physical development of the zone. The idea is that investors who wish to settle there will find substantial facilities. They are demanding this, by making comparisons with other countries that offer them so many benefits. The Cameroonian market is obviously attractive but there are still facilities and various tax breaks to boost company establishment.
- What message do you have for PAK partners for 2021?
First of all, we would like to thank them for trusting us. We encourage them to continue working with us. In return, we commit ourselves, within our means, to improve the quality of our services and to maintain the flexibility we have established in our relations. Relationships of proximity that will be strengthened. To those who do not yet work with us, we invite them to come and discover the Port of Kribi, assuring them that they will find arguments to stay in the Port.
- A last word to your company’s employees …
They are to be congratulated for allowing the structure to exist. They have contributed to it, each in their own way. They should therefore be congratulated for the results that are the product of collective action. Secondly, they should know that it is not easy to maintain oneself when one starts to rise. The challenge is to maintain yourself, to avoid falling. Therefore, let everyone work harder, especially since this year will bring a large amount of work that will require everyone to put even more energy into it. So, they must prepare themselves for this. Finally, I am going to mention the small problems of discipline that we encounter here and there. We need to pull ourselves together so that PAK’s performance is better. As for us in the General Management, we will do what is necessary to improve the working conditions that have been minimal up to now.