There have been mixed reactions to the Trinidad and Tobago government’s plans to privatize the ports as part of its efforts to encourage the private sector to become an additional source of funding as partners in growth-enhancing activities.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, delivering the TT$49.5 billion (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) on Monday, said that the public-private-partnerships will relieve the funding constraints in the economic program and that this mechanism will bring private sector technology, greater efficiency, and innovation into the provision of better public services.
“In particular, the private sector has become increasingly and successfully involved in the operations of cargo-handling operations at port facilities worldwide. Public port agencies have been moving away from the service port model under which national port authorities provide all commercial services as well as regulatory functions; but increasingly have been utilizing the landlord model.”
Imbert told legislators that the government has decided to adopt this approach with the Port Authority retaining its regulatory and asset management functions, but with managerial, operational, and financial responsibility for commercial activities such as terminals and equipment in the port area under a new investor
“The Ministry of Works of Transport will therefore be mandated to take immediate steps to rationalize by the end of fiscal 2021, the operations of the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago and to introduce a private sector operator into the Port handling operations now carried out by the Port of Spain, leaving the ferry service to the Trinidad and Tobago Inter-Island Company Limited and the lands for the Port of Spain Infrastructure Company.
“We will also take steps to ensure that the operations at Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Corporation are consistent with the operations of the port handling operations of the Port of
Port of Spain,” Imbert added.
The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce said that it viewed the privatization of operations of the Port of Spain “as progressive steps towards more public-private partnerships, which will improve efficiencies in these areas.
“We believe the government has done their best to act prudently, given the challenges they are working with. The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber now looks forward to the details of all the measures which will emerge during the Budget debate,” the private sector group said.
The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) says is it is pleased with the move, saying this has been “a primary lobbying” issue by the association.
“The proposed privatization of ports and the new personal income ceiling reflects government is listening and responsive to recommendations from the business community,” TTMA President Franka Costelloe said in a statement.
But the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU) says the privatizing initiative will not work and that there are some important questions still to be answered by the government.
“We have been conscious all the while that the port was in a dire situation, and there was a need for what I want to call a new model to operate the port,” said SWWTU president Michael Annisette.
“But concomitant with that thought process was the fact then that the port still has a lot of liability on its books. The question is, how are we going to privatize the port? Are we talking about sending home people, who will be responsible for the severance (payments)?
“What kind of model are you using for the privatization of the port, and I think those are critical components that need to be discussed, needs to be cleared up,” the representing union president said, even as he acknowledged that the Port of Spain could be a viable entity.
He said both the SWWTU and the umbrella body, the National Trade Union Center (NATUC), believe that the port “can be sustainable, the port can be productive, the port can make money.
“Yes, there’s a lot of infrastructure development and equipment (needed) that requires a lot of capital investment, and therefore we can have a different conversation in the context of how we deal with that, but one has to remember that in sending home anybody from the port it has social implications,” Annisette said.