Sat | Nov 18, 2017

KCT concession agreement not in the public domain

Published:Friday | July 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
A section of the Kingston Container Terminal

The concession agreement for the operation of Kingston Container Terminal (KCT) is not publicly available and the Port Authority of Jamaica is yet to say why.

Instead, the agency invoked the Access to Information Act (ATI) when asked for a copy of the document, giving itself up to a month to comply with the request.

Port Authority inked the concession with French-owned consortium Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited back in 2015, and has spoken publicly about elements of the deal, which closed last year.

But a few weeks ago, Kingston Wharves Limited, a rival port operator to the KCT, began complaining that the agreement was not in the public domain, unlike other concessions for highways that were also divested to foreigners under deals struck by other state agencies.

Chief operations officer of Kingston Wharves, Mark Williams, said the company has asked the authorities for a copy of the agreement without success.

"We are not accusing the Government or the authorities of anything untoward," he said. "But we feel it is accepted good international practice to have more transparency, access to information, public information in the divestment of public assets. We are not asking for trade and commercial secrets."

Transparent process

Kingston Wharves said it wants some assurance that there exists a level playing field for all investors, foreign and local, and that the process is transparent.

Financial Gleaner also requested a copy of the agreement from the Port Authority of Jamaica. The agency responded by email with a note acknowledging receipt of the request and suggested it was being dealt with under the Access to Information Act, although the request was not made under the ATI.

In the note over the signature of Ceila Stephens, access officer, Records and Information Management Unit, the Port Authority said it would process the request within 30 days as prescribed by ATI.

The concession agreements between the National Road Operating and Constructing Company and TransJamaican Highway Limited, in respect of the Highway 2000 project, as well as the Jamaica North South Highway Company Limited, in respect of the North-South Highway project, are both posted online and are easily accessible to the public.

However, the Financial Gleaner was also unable to locate a public copy of the Sangster International Airport concession agreement.

The Port Authority has posted on its website a two-page newsletter version of the KCT concession agreement, but it does not detail elements such as monitoring of performance and other conditions as laid out in the 183-page Highway 2000 contract and the more than 100-page North-South Highway agreement.

Kingston Freeport, a consortium of CGM CMA and Terminal Link, assumed control of KCT on July 1, 2016, kicking off a 30-year concession more than a year after the initial agreement was struck with the Port Authority.

Under the US$510-million ($64-billion) agreement, Kingston Freeport will finance, develop, expand and operate KCT.

The first phase of the project includes 1,200 metres of berth reinforced to European Union standards, and 800 cubic metres of dredging reinforced to a depth of 15.5 metres to accommodate Panamax vessels. The first phase of the project will be undertaken over five years at a cost of US$259 million.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com