Issue not renegotiating port project conditions but a revamped format

21Apr 2021
The Guardian
Issue not renegotiating port project conditions but a revamped format

INTERMINAB LE discussions are likely to take place if fresh talks which are on the cards with investors for the proposed Bagamoyo Port project actually get underway, it can safely be suggested.

This is what can be said to emerge on the basis of what transpired from remarks by the responsible minister during the winding up of debate on the 114.8trn/- Third Five Year Development Plan (FYDP-III).  The Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Officer (Investment) Geoffrey Mwambe said the government is willing to proceed with the project if contentious terms are altered. They concluded in 2013, and restart talks now!

Anyone familiar with how the government works, or rather its top officials - and this is part of what riled the late President John Magufuli continually – knows how they convert weaknesses in policy making into opportunities for travel, meetings and the like. Raining down on such habits was a key aspect of the JPM work method, and as Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa has promised that checks on the misuse of public finance will be kept, interminable negotiations are what should first be avoided. The ministry must come up with a workable plan which doesn’t stifle the development of our other ports, and give it to investors.

It is therefore not the Chinese company which should think up what should be the new terms or having to agree to such terms basically, but an acceptable format where the company has an opportunity to pick up significant shareholding, even a majority share. But the idea is that it should be an open format for a commercial opportunity that isn’t designed as a deep seaport monopoly, even against other seaports in the country. It should be an additional investment that has good chances of growth on the basis of cutting its charges in comparison with Mombasa port – or even the port of Dar es Salaam – not exercise a monopoly.

That is why there is need for the minister to go back to the drawing board and get his experts to come up with a plan that is aligned with current priorities of improving the business climate. That means anyone who wishes to invest in ports or knows the field, or has a stake either as a maritime transporter or large importing firm, and even an exporter wishing for solid deep seaport facilities, can chip in. When there are sufficient stakeholders for the capital needed to build the facility, the project takes off and is posted on the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange. The port managers will be under a board of shareholders not the ministry.

This is the manner in which stock exchanges are built and gradually most major firms are listed there and attract capital, regulate themselves via board of directors and not relying on ministerial checks, as this builds negative solidarity between managements, boards, ministry officials and regulators. It is well worth remembering that the project was initially agreed upon in 2013, the year that Chinese President Xi Jinping took office and visited Tanzania as his first itinerary in Africa. Some will see the terms agreed as a typical Chinese way of doing things, yet it isn’t the case; the Chinese are savvy business practitioners who cut their coat according to the client they have. The original error is that the ministry, or the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) wanted a state project and so it was given mercantile terms.

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