Private concerns

COMMENT: I’m going to resist the urge to write about container weighing or the catchily named verified gross mass requirements of the incoming SOLAS amendments, writes Carly Fields.

As the deadline fast approaches, who’s doing what, where and when - and equally who’s not doing what - is changing on an hourly basis and anything I write here will be well out of date by the time it reaches your hands. All I’ll say is good luck. We’re all going to need it to stand any chance of being compliant – or even knowing what compliance is in some quarters.

Instead, let’s look at privatisation - a no-less-important topic, but one that is equally as complicated. Both Brazil and India recognise the need for privatisation to bring in outside funding to ports that sorely need upscaling to cater for predictions of surging traffic.

Brazil’s calamitous economy has had an acute impact on planned privatisation: planned tranches of concessions have been delayed, offered, retracted and in some cases, cancelled. There’s a lack of confidence in processes and procedures, not helped by the forced resignation of the ports minister just months into the job and the impending impeachment of his boss, President Dilma Rousseff.

And if investors were hesitant before, news that the Special Ports Ministry is to be subsumed into the Transport Ministry will surely confirm their fears. In charge of the newly-expanded Transport Ministry will be Transport Minister Mauricio Quintella Lessa, bringing with him a distinct lack of transport experience. Mr Quintella Lessa has already paid lip service to granting more concessions and privatising as much as possible, but weary potential investors have heard it all before. Brazil needs action not words if it’s to realise the true potential of its ports.

Across the globe, India is another privatisation proponent struggling to overcome bureaucracy to get its ports up to speed.

As Brazil scraps its port-specific department, India is looking to set one up to better attract private investment.

A department dedicated to privatisation should be the perfect way to encourage and nurture private investment and pursue privatisation. But it needs a level of autonomy to make it truly effective, with a degree of separation from political whims and fancies. It also needs stability, which it will not be afforded by political vagaries.

Both Brazil and India face similar port privatisation challenges and they have both realised the need for oversight to make that process a success; but neither have yet found the perfect mix, to the detriment of their respective port sectors.

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