ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The Port Authority has announced that a team of consultants from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago will be advising it through massive restructuring to cut cost, boost revenue, reduce port charges, and improve technology, among a host of other considerations.
The team was introduced to stakeholders during a brief session yesterday. Principal among the three is Karen Adair, who the Port Authority’s Deputy Chairman Gordon “Banks” Derrick introduced as having a winning track record in port reorganisation in Jamaica. He even said that she has written several training manuals in relation to port operations.
While welcoming the idea of such an in-depth study of the ailing organisation, Antigua Trades & Labour Union Industrial Relations Officer Ralph Potter said he still needed to see evidence that the people chosen to steer the port over the next few months are right for the job. He was at the session at which the team was introduced but said he cannot be convinced just by hearing bios read from a rostrum.
The Antigua Workers Union also welcomed the development, saying it was long overdue. In fact, AWU General Secretary Senator David Massiah said that his union recommended it as many as two years ago.
“If we had been heeded, I’m quite sure this matter could have been well done long ago,” Massiah said. “It’s late – never too late really – albeit that it is going to take a little more time, but we could have avoided all the headaches at this particular stage I think, if the management at the particular time was really listening.”
For several years, the union has been complaining of rising cost and falling revenue and has had to lean on the government treasury to fund its monthly payroll, which amounts to about $1.1 million.
It was even late in paying August salaries and has found itself incapable of finding the cash to implement a voluntary separation programme sanctioned since last year by unions.
Those are some of the considerations that prompted workers at the weekend to question the wisdom of undertaking such a massive review, but Port Authority Chairman Greg Walter told The Daily OBSERVER yesterday that he didn’t see any other choice.
“I think we’ve got to be frank, and certain things the public will have to know that from my involvement – I’ve been involved from the middle of July – and every month-end, I’ve had to be going to government literally seeking moneys to pay the staff, and that’s an untenable situation. It simply cannot continue, and as a consequence of that too, we have some very, very critical meetings coming up with both trade unions,” he said.
Workers were also objecting to the idea on the assumption that the project will be quite expensive. Walter was anxious yesterday to give assurance that whatever the cost turns out to be, the port won’t be the one paying the bill.
“Not a cent will be coming from the port, but something of this nature would probably be in the vicinity between US $60 and US $90 thousand thereabouts. That’s just an estimate of mine. I’m not certain as to what the figure is now, but probably some time in the week the press can get the exact figure,” he said.
The team has promised a report by mid December, and they are spending this week in talks aimed at getting a full picture of how management, and people and groups employed by and who do business with the port view the current operations and of what they would like to see changed.