Moves by Government to privatise the beleaguered Port of Port-of-Spain has already attracted local and foreign investors.
The revelation came from Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan under whose purview the port falls.
Last October, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that Government will privatise the port in 2021.
Giving an update on the privatisation process, Sinanan said consultations among stakeholders have already been done.
“The report is being finalised now to be presented to Cabinet. Once Cabinet gets the report, then Cabinet will determine a way forward. But we have a mandate to have an RFP (request for proposal) out in early 2021.”
Sinanan said Cabinet would decide what model of privatisation they want.
“I would say in January Cabinet should receive that document (report). This Government has been transparent in terms of our tendering process. So once you create the model, then it goes out for tender. There are a lot of people have shown interest, I must say. But there will be a process, “Sinanan said.
Sinanan said those who expressed an interest were local and foreign companies.
“I think the union of all people has recognised that the port cannot continue the way it is. The unions have to do what the unions have to do. And the Government has to do what it was elected to do.”
Having held four meetings with the union, stakeholders and international funding agencies who made submissions on the port, Sinanan said “I have heard nobody say that there will be a push back on the privatisation. What I have heard is that the model that we want to use is where the different suggestions would have come from.”
He said the model would determine how much influence the Government would have in the privatisation process.
“There are different models for ports…the Government could be a landlord alone. The Government could be a shareholder.”
He drew reference to the Point Lisas Port which Government controls 51 per cent with 49 per cent being privately-owned.
Sinanan said the port has to become efficient and effective because the current model has not been working.
“What the port requires is a significant capital input. Unfortunately, our economy does not allow us to do that. Are we going to continue with the same model where the Government has to write a cheque to the port every year? It can’t work like that. It can’t be business as usual.”
Sinanan said this port was one of few ports in the Caribbean managed by the Government.
“Most of them are private partners…. and some part of it is franchised out for operations.”
Sinanan said while cargo operations at the port have been a profitable venture, other areas were not.
“Paying your day to day expense does not make you profitable. A profitable business is a business that you could re-inject money into it for capital expenditure. Whenever they have to buy a crane the Government has to buy the crane. How could you say the port is profitable?”
To compound matters, he said the port cannot receive large ships coming from the Panama Canal.
For these massive ships to berth in Port-of-Spain, it would require significant dredging.
“The average ship that comes through the Panama canal could be about 300 metres long or more. We cannot accommodate those huge ships here. So what you find, a lot of the ships go to Jamaica. Then we would have to use smaller ships to transport commodities and goods to Trinidad,” Sinanan said.
He said many ports in the Caribbean have upgraded to cater for larger vessels.
“We did not do that with our port and we have lost a significant amount of business to Jamaica.”
Describing the port’s location as “excellent” and its lands valuable, Sinanan said “if the land is properly managed that in itself is a big income. Point Lisas is a living example of that. They get a lot of revenue from their land assets.”
But Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) president Michael Annisette said they are not in support of the port being fully-privatised.
“There must be a role for local stakeholders. It cannot…and must not be a total privatisation where a foreign entity comes in to do whatever they want. Research has demonstrated that a fully privatised port is not the way to go. Some of the major ports in the world are not privatised. We must look at a model that is suited to our needs rather than go blindly and make it appear that privatisation is the panacea for all the problems on the port.”
In the last two months, Annisette said he heard European, Saudi Arabian and American investors were keen on controlling the port.
“No investor will come in if there is baggage. There are still billions of (dollars) in debt on the Port Authority’sbooks. “
The union, he said also expressed concern about port employees working on a 2014 salary when there was a 2017 agreement for a salary upgrade.
“And there are still outstanding negotiations. All these issues must be put in place for us to move forward because no investor will come to settle all these industrial matters.”
He said the port which “ is T&T’s economic lifeline” was allowed to run down.
Annisette said for Sinanan to say there was no push back “is a misrepresentation.”
He said there was also no full-scale agreement by stakeholders on the appropriate model.
“What there is an agreement on is that there is a need for cash to invest in the port to do all the infrastructure work, dredging and other things required,” Annisette said.
ABOUT THE PORT
The port, which employs 1,300 daily paid and permanent workers spanspan from Sea Lots to the mouth of the Maraval River.
The size of the port is approximately 142 hectares with 61 hectares used specifically for cargo operations.
There are eight berths which cater for cargoes such as containerised, break, dry and liquid bulks, ro-ro cars carriers and barrels.