PM Bainimarama: Reforms at Suva and Lautoka Ports Will make Them “Pacific’s Best”

Fiji has joined forces with a major global maritime logistics company to overhaul the operation of the country’s two biggest ports, Suva and Lautoka, and speed up the flow of goods in and out of the country.

The Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, says poor performance on the wharves has retarded Fiji’s development, added to the cost of imports and exports and forced ordinary Fijians to pay more for imported goods. This has happened because international shipping firms have imposed special levies on voyages to Fiji to take into account delays in loading and unloading caused by inefficient practices.

“This affects every Fijian and cannot be allowed to continue. So today, I announce a program of radical reform. The old ways of doing things of the wharves are over. These ports need to be run as smoothly and efficiently as possible to ensure that our trade runs more freely and more cheaply for the benefit of all Fijians”, he said.

The Prime Minister was speaking at the signing of a Private Public Partnership (PPP) agreement between the Fiji Ports Corporation and prominent Sri Lankan conglomerate, Aitken Spence PLC.He said the two companies were joining forces – through FPCL’s subsidiary Ports Terminal Limited – to bring international best practice to the ports of Suva and Lautoka.

“We share the same vision to make these container terminals world class, to radically overturn the inefficiencies of the past and apply best practice to eventually establish them as the leading ports and maritime logistic centres in the Pacific”, he said.

Aitken Spence is Sri Lanka’s largest maritime logistics company and also an important global player, with installations in six countries in South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It has a track record of superior performance inits operations, including container handling, cargo, courier and supply chain management.

Established in 1868 when Sri Lanka was British Ceylon, Aitken Spence PLC has a range of diverse interests aside from its trading and maritime services, including hotels, tourism, power generation, health care, plantations, insurance, financial services, IT, printing and garments.

The Prime Minister said Fiji’s alliance with Aitken Spence was undoubtedly one of the most significant of the PPP agreements that Government was forging as it reformed a range of sectors in Fiji. The cost of doing business would fall and all Fijians would benefit.

“The global record shows that where there’s better efficiency and productivity on the wharves, prices come down. The goods we import get cheaper because shipping charges fall, just as our exports become a lot more attractive in the global marketplace because they are better able to compete. The Government expects the business community to pass on these price reductions to the public and will be taking a tough stance against anyone who doesn’t”, he said.

Commodore Bainimarama said a program of reform at the Suva and Lautoka installations was long overdue.

“There’s been far too much corruption on our wharves, far too much sabotage when certain people don’t get what they want. We’ve seen far too many restrictive and outdated work practices, far too much over-manning and far too much resistance to change by both the stevedoring companies and maritime unions.”

“We need better turnaround times for ships visiting our ports. We need to make Fiji more competitive, more attractive as a trans-shipment for other places in the Pacific. And we can only do this by lifting performance standards in Suva and Lautoka”, he said.

The Prime Minister signaled that the reforms could produce right sizing in the short term but the long-term effect would be more jobs and more investment as the cost of doing business came down.

“Yes, initially there may be re-organization on our wharves as certain changes are implemented and new technology is introduced. However, these will be more than offset by the creation of new jobs as the benefits flow to the wider economy”, he said.

The Prime Minister said the global record showed that private public partnerships were the best way to run a nation’s ports.

“ The odds of success are vastly in our favour. 88 of the top 100 sea ports in the world are run by public/private partnerships like this one that generate much higher revenues than operations that are wholly government owned.

I want to pay tribute to those who negotiated this deal for their hard work – the directors and management of Aitken Spence and Fiji Ports Corporation Limited and the Minister for Public Enterprise and his team.

Together, we will make Suva and Lautoka the leading ports in the Pacific and fulfill their potential at the crossroads of this important region to drive economic growth and benefit all Fijians”, the PM said.

The PPP announcement was attended by Dr. Parakrama Dissanayake, Chairman, Aitken Spence Maritime Ltd and Director Aitken Spence PLC, who signed the agreement and underlined the company’s strong record of enhancing productivity and efficiency in its operations.

“Aitken Spence is delighted to have forged this agreement with FPCL and the Government of the Republic of Fiji. We see immense opportunities for the private sector to spearhead Fiji’s vision to exploit its strategic geographic location and skilled human resources to become the premier regional maritime hub,” Dr. Dissanayake said.