Although Government only announced its intention to privatise the billion-dollar Port of Port-of-Spain just over a week ago, they have been accused by both the Opposition and the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union (SWWTU) of acting in secrecy as the two believe its sale is already a “done deal.”
During his budget contribution last week, Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh challenged Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, under whose purview the port falls, to come clean about the arrangement with a preferred bidder.
SWWTU president Michael Annisette, meanwhile, said he heard from reliable people that the Government was in discussions with the Chinese to take over the port and that “price” was bing discussed.
Sinanan denied the claims, but said the Government had to make a decision. He said, so far, they have consulted with the Inter-American Development Bank.
“We are now going to have consultation with the different stakeholders, come up with a policy and then we will go out for the type of model that we are going to use,” he said. Stakeholders would include the SWWTU, shipping agents, and businesses that conduct operations at the port.
Indarsingh claimed rumours were rife that a Chinese entity named Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) a shipping and logistics service company with a track record of being involved in over 70 countries, based in Hong Kong, had its eyes on the port.
He also said the French container transportation and shipping firm, CMA CGM Group was also keen to become a partner in this arrangement.
But Sinanan said the Opposition was trying to scare off international investors who may think twice about investing in T&T.
“We have no information of any Chinese company or any other company interested at this point in time.
“I do not know of any conversation or anybody at the port, ministry or Cabinet level having any discussion with any partner.”
Sinanan said moves to privatise the port were not new. “Since 2000, this process started. Three companies were actually formed in 2004 but for strange reasons and for the way things happened at the port, it was not continued.”
He said successful ports around the world are managed either through a public/private arrangement or wholly owned by private enterprise.
He said Jamaica was one country that had been taking a lot of business from T&T, and pointed to the arrangement models they were using.
Questioned if the Government would accept bids from both international and local players vying for ownership of the port, Sinanan said they would have consultation with everyone involved “to participate in a free and fair bidding process.”
Sinanan defended the Cabinet saying, “This Government has always been transparent with every single project.”
The minister also challenged Annisette to bring whatever information he had that pointed to the port being placed in the hands of a Chinese firm.
Intent on resisting the proposal to privatise within one year of the October 5 budget, Annisette said, “The port can operate as a logistic hub centre. If the Government looks for an investor as opposed to selling it out, our country can grow.
“We don’t believe in sending people home as an answer to any crisis. To privatise is one way of throwing the workers to the wolves. I am saying the port must not be given to private enterprise.”
Annisette said they were yet to find out the model of privatisation that the Government intends to select.
He said, “The Chinese have been strategically planting themselves in Trinidad. They are strategic thinkers and negotiators.” He said the Chinese are known for dangling carrots when making deals, which many countries have fallen for and are now paying a heavy price.
“They will lend you this and that, but they have a long-term aim.”
He said the port was deliberately neglected by this regime and estimated that upgrades would cost the Government over $700 million.
About the port:
The port, Annisette said, employs 1,300 daily paid and permanent workers.
The port spans from Sea Lots all the way to the mouth of the Maraval River.
According to the Port Authority’s website, the size of the port is approximately 142 hectares with 61 hectares used specifically for cargo operations.
There are eight berths and it caters for cargoes such as containerised, break, dry and liquid bulks, ro-ro cars carriers and barrels.
Annisette said, “It is a lot of lands, some of which is on the seafront. We are talking about hectares so the value would be billions. The Chinese don’t want the port. They want the locality. When you give away your port you are giving away your livelihood.”
The union leader said a country’s main port was a critical lifeline of its economy.
He said T&T was one of the biggest exporters of goods within the Caribbean region.