Port privatisation bid threatens to split dock workers union


Dock Workers Union Secretary- General Simon Sang. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The plan by the State to privatise the Sh27 billion second container terminal in Mombasa has split the dockers union.

Last week, a strike notice which was to be issued by Dock Workers Union (DWU) came a cropper following wrangles in the union over the issue.

Embattled secretary-general Simon Sang, who does not see eye to eye with his chairman Mohamed Sheria, had called for a meeting only for it to be cancelled at the last minute after board members mandated to pass the resolution absconded.

Workers at the port wanted to issue their strike notice, as a faction led by Mr Sheria demanded fresh polls to elect new union leaders following Mr Sang’s objection to privatisation plans, according to our sources.

Last Saturday, two parallel forums were called to discuss the way forward on the issue.

Mr Sang led a board members meeting, together with a section of Coast MPs, at Mombasa Women Hall while Mr Sheria met senior government officials led by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Managing Director Daniel Manduku, Maritime, Shipping Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu and chairperson of technical adviser on blue economy Samson Mwathethe at Nyali Beach Resort.

Mr Sheria claims the faction is using the privatisation issue to gain political mileage since they have not received detailed information on how best it can be leased.

“We have a recognition agreement between Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and DWU and if there is anything like privatisation, we are supposed to be officially informed. But there are a number of meetings being convened by Mr Sang without laid-down procedures being followed. That is why we are absconding them,” said Mr Sheria.

Self interests

Mr Sang, on the other hand, downplayed the division and termed those who do not support him as seeking their own interests.

“DWU represents members’ interests and I am with them, some of our board members have their own personal interests but that should not be the issue at the moment. I am not for the privatisation and, with time, they will agree with me. I have been at the port for more than 33 years and I can read the mood,” he said.

The blame game between DWU board members has created rifts, with each group (for and against the issue) accusing each other of being influenced by external forces.
According to the union, if the facility is put in private hands, over 4,000 Mombasa port workers will be rendered jobless.

On the other hand, MPs from the region have blamed the government for initiating plans to privatise the port without fully involving leaders and locals.

More than 10 MPs have vowed to go to court to block the process if their efforts to stop the proposed changes contained in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Parliament fail.

“The MPs will use every means to block the changes in Parliament and if they don't succeed, then we will move to court. We will mobilise the resources to see this matter does not go anywhere. We cannot allow things to be done for the sake of benefiting a few individuals,” said Mombasa Senator Mohammed Faki.

Merchant Shipping Act

According to the proposed changes, the Merchant Shipping Act that bars a shipping line from running port operations would be changed.

The new law will give permission to shipping lines to run the port, which the leaders say would be against the Constitution.

The leaders said, if the government wants to make any changes it should be done through the Public-Private Partnership Act which they said would bring transparency.

The legislators accused the Blue Economy Committee of not providing documents to them for perusal on how the privatisation would benefit the residents, if it must be done. The leaders said there was scanty information that has been provided to them on the matter.

“It is clear that there are a lot of things that have been done without the leaders being involved. We need that information for verification,” said Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire.

Others present were Ken Chonga (Kilifi South), Paul Katana (Kaloleni), Omar Mwinyi (Changamwe), Mishi Mboko (Likoni), Abdulswamad Nassir (Mvita), Benjamin Tayari (Kinango), William Kamoti (Rabai) and Ruweida Obbo (Lamu). Also present were civil society groups.