Why do dock workers oppose privatisation of Mombasa port?

Dock Workers Union General Secretary Simon

Dock Workers Union General Secretary Simon Sang during a press briefing on August 1, 2020.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

What are the impacts of putting the Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Railways and Kenya Ports Authority and now Kenya Ferry under a single entity — Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) — on members of the Dock Workers Union, particularly as regards to job security? Derek Liech

DNation bodytext: Putting Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Railways and Kenya Ports Authority under a single entity has a big impact on job security because Kenya Ports Authority will be drained of its financial resources, especially by the financially limping Kenya Railways. In the next one year or so, if no steps are taken to stop this move which was initiated without the involvement of Parliament and the relevant stakeholders, KPA will not be able to sustain itself hence likely to cause redundancies of up to 4,000 jobs.

This is because the merger is a conduit to bringing on board the Kenya National Shipping Line and Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) to run the second Container Terminal (CT2). Under the new arrangement, ICDC, the Ministry of Transport in collaboration with the Treasury are in the process of collapsing the Merchant Shipping Act through a judicial process. So far, the Kenya Ports Authority management is being forced to enter into consent in a case concerning the privatisation of CT2. This is a big disaster to the workers of Kenya Ports Authority and this will affect KPA management by 80 per cent and unionisable employees by 50 per cent or thereabout.

As far as the Kenya Ferry Services Corporation is concerned, this was a good move since KPA has maintenance facilities and very skilled human resources who will give the technical input in the maintenance of Kenya Ferry vessels.

Privatisation of the Port of Mombasa is intended to, among others, boost its competitiveness, efficiency in the clearing of cargo, contain deep-rooted corruption, and also cut costs on the port's operations. You and the union have vehemently opposed this move. Why is the union opposed to privatisation which could in the long run make the port more efficient? Dan Murugu, Nakuru County

The planned privatisation of Kenya Ports Authority is not intended to cut cost, neither is it intended to spur efficiency. It is a way of transferring public investments to private hands or individual families. This suspicion is so clear because those spearheading privatisation have never liked using an open system like Parliament. Secondly, if we want KPA to be efficient, this is not necessarily achieved through privatisation.

We can achieve it through corporatisation by deploying a competitively sourced management team who are professionals and competent in the five fields of Kenya Ports Authority — operations, finance, human resource, corporate planning and technical departments. Currently most of these departments are not headed by managers who were competitively sourced according to their required professionalism and competence. The Human Resource Division has suffered the most. Currently all the workers have very low morale and it is the first time we are witnessing management who have neglected the most valued fabric of motivation of workers.

Top ports in the world which are efficient are not necessarily privatised but corporatised. These include the Port of Singapore and the Port of Durban. The Port of Singapore is currently the largest and most efficient public-owned port in the world. Dock Workers Union has severally recommended the adoption of the Singapore model for the sake of efficiency but this has not been taken seriously.

Mombasa Dock Workers Union is vehemently opposed to the licensing of another grain handling facility. Are you reading mischief by the management of the port in the way it is going about the process of identifying a player? Moustapha Ali

Dock Workers Union is not opposed to licensing another second Grain Bulk Handling Facility per se. Our problem is the process. Licensing major facilities that cannot be provided by Kenya Ports Authority has to go through the process of being approved first in the master plan of the Authority and it is in the master plan that there are parameters which must be looked at, such as the level of grain passing through the Port of Mombasa or coming into the country so that those investors whom KPA engage on public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement are assured of sustainability of the investment.

If the master plan parameters allow, it will automatically be approved through a legal process. Any additional facilities are immediately approved if the planned threshold is surpassed. If this yardstick is not used, the port shall end up approving white elephant PPP projects and the port is liable to heavy penalties.

The KPA management has been the equivalent of a revolving door because of high-level corruption. Do you think this menace has now been tamed after the prosecution of some top managers? Komen Moris, Eldoret

Corruption in KPA is executed through external forces and this will stop only if the government de-links itself from micromanaging the port. This can only be sorted out if Parliament passes the Government-Owned Entities Bill (GOEB) of 2014. This Bill was intended to give managers independence in the running of the port. The corruption deals very many managing directors and heads of department have bitten the bullet on having benefited those external pushers rather than those employees who are going to jail or are being sacked.

As the secretary-general of the Dock Workers Union, you demanded the expulsion of Portside Freight Terminals Limited from the Port of Mombasa. Why do you strongly feel so? Mwanaisha Kazungu, Mombasa County

As a union, we demanded the expulsion of all companies that are operating illegally in the port. Portside is more visible because they have brought in huge handling machinery into the port and have taken over port services using port facilities which were built and/or owned by taxpayers.

The Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) indicted a number of the current top KPA officials over corruption allegations at the start of this year. Why do you think the investigations have stalled? Shariff Mohamed, Thika Town, Kiambu County

The DCI is in most cases used by political class who are State-friendly. In most cases, they are biased and do not operate independently.

The management of the port appears almost helpless in resolving perennial cargo handling and evacuation bottlenecks. What needs to be done to alleviate the situation, especially rail board cargo? Faki Nuru, Mombasa County

The port management is almost helpless because of what I said before. Top of the reason is the highly demotivated workforce, and incompetence in most of those Heads of Department responsible for the different operations and/or functions. What needs to be done is competitive sourcing of all the chief officers starting with the MD’s position to the Heads of Division and some Heads of strategic department like Container Terminal Operation has a big gap at the moment.

Two of your members died recently at the port for what you referred to as poor and unsafe working conditions. Have the port authorities addressed your grievances and concerns? Juma Hassan, Mombasa County

The death of two employees at berth 7/8 was an unfortunate occurrence. We have written to the concerned authorities, including Parliament, and the same is being addressed though at a very slow pace.

The Dock Workers Union has been having bitter internal wrangles lately. Is this affecting the union’s ability to effectively represent workers? Tariq Modhar, Kilifi County

Dock Workers Union has been having internal wrangles because some of the national officials have been compromised by some government officials and by cartels who want to bring the union down so that they can move forward with privatisation of the port. My stand as the general-secretary and citizen of Kenya since 2006 has been consistent and I will remain so forever, whether inside Dock Workers Union or otherwise. The wrangles have partially affected the running of the union but it has also offered us a good lesson on what calibre of leadership is required for a union official. This will be addressed in the forthcoming elections of April 2021.

The Dock Workers Union leadership recently petitioned Parliament to investigate KPA in relation to accusations of favouritism and unfair business practices by Portside Terminals Limited. How far have these investigations gone? Gaitho Mercy, Nairobi County

We have asked Parliament to investigate the illegality of dishing out port facilities of the public to individuals in the name of privatisation. Investigation is ongoing.