Sluggish trade in Lake Zone as major ships remain grounded

Sunday June 16 2019

 

By Jonathan Musa @TheCitizenTz news@thecitizen.co.tz

Kagera. Traders and travellers in the Lake Zone are struggling to cope with exorbitant road transport costs as major ships- Mv Victoria and Mv Butiama remained grounded for three years now over mechanical problems.

Although they are hopefully that the major means of transporting their merchandise would resume operations, they could not hide fears this may take longer while excessive cost of transport continue to hurt.

This, according a survey by The Citizen, is negatively affecting an estimated 7,500 businesspersons who depend on the continent’s largest lake by area, for reliable and less costly transport.

Mv Victoria, which was operating between Mwanza and Bukoba, suspended operations in 2014 due to technical problems. Its renovation was expected to take up to 12 months, the Marine Services Company Limited (MSCL) said at that time.

Traders and travellers are pinning their hopes on the government’s promise that water transport would be re-energised in Lake Victoria following a Sh151.4 billion contract that it signed with a South Korea-based company, with the aim of constructing a new vessel, as well as rehabilitating Mv Victoria and MvButiama.

The MSCL chief executive officer,Mr Eric Hamissi, says “the construction of a new ship, which was launched last year by President John Magufuli, has been done by 30 per cent – and the job is continuing apace.’’

Wait for the new ship

However, as residents wait for the new ship and a refurbished Mv Victoria, the high cost of doing business is about to become a norm, The Citizen has reliably established.

Most areas along the lake shores have no wharfs for transport vessels like cargo ships, boats and canoes.

It costs up to Sh80,000 to transport a tonne of cargo from Mwanza city to Kagera Region by road. To transport the same tonne by ship across Lake Victoria costs up to Sh20,000only!

A dealer in fish, Mr Alex Mushumbusi, says that, besides contending with the high cost of transport by road, there are other challenges, including consignments being lost along the road.

“As business operators, road transport is very costly. We are forced to incur the high costs because we have no option,’’ he told The Citizen in an interview in Mwanza. Another trader, Muchuma Sirika, regularly transports sardines between Mwanza and Bunda District in Mara Region. He says that he and others in his area currently rely on one boat to transport their merchandise.

“We are getting very little profit compared to the work we do. So, that is how it is,” said Sirika.

It had never crossed the mind of some cross-border traders such as Justin Rukaka, the manager of ‘Meru Oil’ in rural Bunda that they would have to resort to using the road to transport cotton seeds to neighboring Uganda.

“Using trucks to ferry cotton seeds from Sirari to Malava and Kampala is hard for us because we have to spend nights on the way. The trucks also develop mechanical problems – and we sometimes fear for our lives and cargoes,” says Rukaka.

He says one benefit of ship transport is that traders are charged according to the weight of their consignments. So, he says, a consignment of cotton seeds is not too heavy to be ferried by ship.

Women who conduct their businesses near Mwanza South Port say existence of the port has helped them get customers for the cooked food they sell as a matter of course.

Mildred Boke, a popular cooked food vendor, says she started the cooked food vending business about two years ago, and managed to build a clientele of special customers.

But, when the vessels are grounded, customers seemingly vanish into the thin air!

In another development, though, the acting manager of the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) who spoke to The Citizen at the Mwanza North Port, Mr Georfrey Lwesya, says public revenues at the Mwanza port increased by 54.6 percent, rising from Sh619.71 billion in the 2017/18 financial year to Sh1,138.28 billion during the period between July 2018 and April 2019.

The situation in Musoma

According to the Musoma Port Manager, Almacius Vedasto, TPA has been collecting a total of Sh45 million per month as public revenues since February, 2019.

This is very much unlike in the past, when the Authority was garnering an average of Sh2 million a month.

Mr Vedasto said the new higher collections are largely attributed to the operationalization of the newly-constructed dock on the Mwigobero shore, as well as sensitizing local communities to the importance of using marine vessel transport.

A total of Sh605 billion was spent on the construction of the wharf, a project that was financed by the government through TPA.

“We have provided education to the public on how marine transport can be reliable -- and we can now see the numbers of the users of marine vessels rising. Over 20 boats can now dock at the wharf at the same time,” Mr Vedasto explained.

In Bukoba...

At the Bukoba port, mechanical problems have in the loss of public revenues. Established in 1945, Bukoba port is a major link between neighboring countries and regions of Tanzania such as Mwanza and Musoma.

The port manager said over 2,500 residents use Lake Victoria transport services. However, the government is currently losing revenues because of the mechanical problems which have grounded Mv Victoria and Mv Musoma.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope in that Bukoba port services would be relaunched before the end of 2019 after completion of its reconstruction, which will include a new passenger lounge.

Public revenues at Mwanza port

The firm of Mwanza Ports serves over six ports in the area including Mwanza, Bukoba, Kemondo Bay and Musoma. The Mwanza Ports Acting Manager, Mr Georfrey Lwesya, says revenues have on average increased by 54.6 percent from July 2018 to April 2019.

According to Mr Lwesya, the increase was from Sh619.71 million the 2017/18 financial year to Sh1,138.28 billion during July 2018 to April this year.

But, this considerable increase in such a short period notwithstanding, Mr Lwesya says there have been some shortcomings and challenges which bedevil the port, including stiff competition.

Indeed, the amount of cargo that was handled at the Mwanza Ports decreased by 20.7 percent over the past five years, having dropped from 213,311 tonnes in 2013/14 to 84,615.178 tonnes in 2017/18.

However, handled cargo increased to 146,287 tonnes during July 2018 to May 2019.

Also, the number of passengers who were handled through the ports in the past five years dropped by 19.8 per cent: from 593,281 passengers in 2013/14 to 246,462 in 2017/18.

“After repairs to Mv Clarias were completed in 2018, the number of passengers handled at the ports increased,” Mr Lwesya stated.

“There are also high-speed passenger ships which now ply Lake Victoria between Mwanza and Ukerewe. These are the Mv Bluebird and Mv Rafiki-1.”

He gave the reason of the decrease in the number of passengers as including the ‘absence’ of Mv Victoria, after it developed mechanical problems. The vessel is largely depended upon in ferrying passengers on Lake Victoria.

But, all those challenges notwithstanding, Mr Lwesya mentioned the reasons for the increase in revenues as including the launch of the Mwanza-Port Bell (Uganda)route, the use of comparative information since 2018, and increased use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in revenue collections (PoS) at the ports of Kemondo, Kyamkwikwi, Mwanza-North,Mwanza-South, Isaka, Mwigobero and Nansio-Ukerewe.

What should be done…

The Lake Victoria TPA manager said jetties had been constructed in different lake shore areas by the Authority in an effort to ensure that its infrastructures were strengthened and reliable. The jetties were constructed at Nyamirembe in Geita, Mwigobero in Musoma, Kanyala in Buchosa and Kemondo Bay in Kagera Region.

However, the chief executive officer of the Marine Services Company Ltd (MSCL), Mr Eric Hamissi said on the telephone that the Mv Victoria and Mv Butiama were undergoing repairs, after which they will be put back in services.

“As of now, the repairs to both ships have been completed by about 30 percent. After completion of the repairs, it will be a big relief for people who use lake transport, including especially businesspersons,” Mr Hamissi bubbled with enthusiasm.

In September 2018, President John Magufuli ceremoniously launched a project for the construction of a new ship which, it is said, will be the largest vessel to ply the Lake Victoria waters. This is envisaged to further spur economic growth all round for the Lake Victoria countries.

The new ship is estimated to cost about Sh88.76 billion, and is being built by a South Korean firm in cooperation with Suma JKT.