Traveling internationally today means heightened security at airports worldwide. High-tech solutions such as biometrics and immigration border control systems are necessary and a moral obligation for airports and governments to protect their passengers and visitors. The Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents over 260 airlines, says, “It is the responsibility of governments to ensure their borders are secure.”
To compete in the global aviation arena, in 2012 the government of Sierra Leone called a tender to hire a company that would provide the most up-to-date technology in the areas of airport security and traveler recognition. Securiport, an American company known for its high-tech solutions in biometrics, airline security, immigration control and aviation, was awarded a 15-year contract. The company was required to make all investments to provide, install and maintain the systems, with enhancements, training and technical assistance. Thus, the government did not need to purchase Securiport’s systems and services or pay for these in advance.
Instead, to cover Securiport’s costs, a fee was instituted, to be paid by the direct users of the immigration control systems the travelers. According to the contract that was signed, Sierra Leone’s Civil Aviation Authority was to implement these procedures by communicating to the international airlines that operate at Lungi International Airport that they would be required to collect the fee from their passengers, acting as a collection agent for the government.
However, nearly four years after the signing of Securiport’s contract, the Civil Aviation Authority has yet to implement these measures, steadfastly refusing to collect the fee. Why? Because the airlines, who work in close relationship with the Civil Aviation Authority, have convinced their officers that collecting the fee from their passengers would be illegal. This is obviously false because such fees are effectively included in the value of the ticket in nearly every commercial flight worldwide. Air travelers can verify this simply by examining their own airline tickets. It is a practice fully recognized and accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
But, if it is not the traveler who is to pay–the actual user of the airport security and immigration systems and services–then, who should? There is only one answer: the government, which means in effect all the citizens of Sierra Leone, you. At this juncture, the government has an accumulated debt of millions of dollars that needs to be paid because the Civil Aviation Authority has chosen to follow the lead of the airlines in defiance of government directives.
In this senseless situation, it might be time to replace the management of the Civil Aviation Authority and put it in the hands of officers who hold the interests of the nation in higher regard than those of the airlines.
Interpol and the Ministries of Transport, Immigration and Internal Affairs have praised the work of Securiport and confirmed that its services have played a role in making Lungi a much safer airport.
Friday January 15, 2016