Importers are to blame for the huge backlog of containers at the Doha Port since they make undue delay in getting the goods cleared, senior port and customs officials told reporters yesterday.
The importers tend to use the container terminal as sort of warehousing facility because the fines for delayed clearance of goods are quite low, the officials said.
The port authorities, therefore, plan to reduce the grace period given to importers for clearing their goods from 21 days to 10 and increase the fines imposed after the grace period to deterring levels.
“We have proposed that the existing law regulating the port be replaced with a new one. We have actually prepared a draft of the proposed law and forwarded it to higher ups for review and approval,” Captain Ahmed Al Maas, Deputy General Manager of Customs and Ports General Authority, said.
“In the draft, new penalty structures have been incorporated,” he said, obliquely hinting that the raised fines would deter importers from leaving their containers un-cleared longer than necessary.
The existing legislation, which was enforced in 1994, prescribes very low fines. For example, not getting a 20-foot container cleared after the grace period of 21 days invites a daily fine of only QR40. The penalty in respect of a 40-foot container is QR80, Al Maas said, addressing a news conference.
Also present on the occasion were Saif Al Suwaidi, operations manager at the port, Mohamed Al Madhadi, director of maritime activities, and Rashid Al Mohannadi, public relations director at the authority.
The officials pointed out that in a bid to resolve the issue of the backlog, active coordination was sought with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI), the representative body of the private sector, and even a joint committee was set up, but in vain.
The existing law prescribed a longer grace period and low fines for delays in clearing containers to encourage imports, but it was now backfiring, rued Al Maas.
Imports have grown massively over the past several years due to the economic boom, to the extent that expansion of the port to cope with the situation has not helped.
An additional container terminal has just been built and plans are afoot to have another one shortly in place in the Ras Abu Aboud area.
“We hope that these extra container terminals would help us manage port affairs smoothly until the new Doha Port is ready by 2014-15,” said Al Maas.