Gwadar Port has a bright future

Gwadar Port, Pakistan

Dostain Khan Jamaldini assumed the charge of Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) chairman on November 29, 2013. He has worked in various departments of the Balochistan government between August 2010 and November 2013, including Planning & Development and Religious and Minorities Affairs.


Talking to The News, Jamaldini discussed challenges being faced by the ports and the future prospects.


Q. What are the challenges being faced by the port and what are your plans to resolve them?


A. American writer Robert D Kaplan in his latest book Monsoon wrote that in ancient times, cities that had great impact on the world history were Troy, Damascus, Thebes, Rome, Carthage, Anuradhapura and Athens. At present, cities that control trade and businesses are Washington, Beijing, Singapore, Dubai and London but I can foresee Gwadar as the future city of the world, especially because of its deep sea port. In fact, this thought was one of the critical factors for my own appointment as the GPA chairman.


Yes, there are huge challenges. Mega projects have always huge benefits but with numerous challenges. Let me be clear on this that the challenges should be, and definitely ought to be, mega ones.


The first challenge I have experienced is the connectivity problem of the port. The government has spent more than Rs17 billion on the port, its machinery and equipment. Other public money that has been spent on its management and maintenance might be around Rs3 to Rs4 billion. What the port has earned so far, right from completion of its Phase-I, is not more than Rs80 to Rs85 million. Reason for this, among others, is that the port is not linked with the land through its own reliable and swift road and rail connectivity. First PC-I for the construction of six-lane Eastbay Expressway connecting the port with Mekran Coastal Highway was prepared during 2005 and submitted to the Planning Commission in 2006.


It was revised and resubmitted in 2009. The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) of the Planning Commission approved it for submission to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) but with certain conditions, encompassing third-party validation of its alignment and ascertaining land compensation for acquiring right-of-way.


Another two to three years were wasted in the process of fulfilling the condition of validation by a third party. Lastly, on December 4, 2013, the ministry approved the case for hiring the services of a third party to validate the alignment of the planned expressway and cost of the land compensation. The only option that I see to resolve the issue of developing the first link of the connectivity, ie, construction of Eastbay Expressway, is continuous pursuing the appraisal and after that working very hard in selecting the best contractor to complete nearly 19km, including 4.3km offshore portion within the planned period of two years.


Optimisation of Gwadar deep sea port depends largely and fundamentally to completion of its connectivity network. And the connectivity network would be complete once N-85 is complete and railway lines are laid to connect it with Karachi, Jacobabad, Naukundi, and Chaman. This will open up trades for the country, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian Republics. The connectivity with China depends on how things move faster on the plan for China-Pakistan economic corridor. Nonetheless, let me add that one of the basic uses of Gwadar Port, as was conceived earlier, was its efficacy to function as a transshipment port. This dimension of the port has never been looked into seriously. I would be emphasising the new port operator to ensure inclusion of this aspect in its business plan.


The second challenge is the inability of the Gwadar Port Authority to become financially a self-reliant organisation. It is pity to see that the world is imploring for Gwadar Port but GPA is seeking help from the federal government for expenses and salaries. Potentials are there for a turnaround: good business plan for the port, effective marketing, dedicated team and honest regulations of the concession components.


The third challenge is the absence of persistent work on the right direction by a strong team.


One may say that security might be the foremost challenge of the Gwadar Port and its operationalisation process. For me, all depends on the policy, attitudes and intents of all players involved and the degree of inclusivity of locals and their economic interests in the shorter, as well as larger framework of the port.


Q. How do you see the Chinese involvement in the Gwadar Port?


A. In the Gwadar deep sea port master plan, the consultant after working out businesses, potentials and economics of the port had suggested “Landlord Model” for operation of the port with its three major areas: ship-handling, marine services and the free-zone.


Earlier, the Port of Singapore (PSA) was selected as operator under a concession agreement. Later, PSA decided to have two other partners with varied shares in each of the stated major areas. Unfortunately, both the PSA and associates (the operators) and GPA (the landlord) could not fulfill some of their essential obligations.


For example, no sound business plan was prepared and launched with some aggressive marketing strategies by the operators. GPA was unsuccessful in connecting the port with highways. There might be some other reasons, both at the national, as well as regional / international levels, for failure to use Gwadar Port optimally.


This is the context in which I see the Chinese assuming the role as operator of the Gwadar deep sea port. For sure, the Chinese have experience in running some of the busiest ports of the world. As for China Overseas Port Holdings Limited (COPHL), frankly speaking, I know very little about it and have no working experience about this new concession holder of the port.


What I hope is that both the COPHL and GPA will be fair in fulfilling their obligations and roles given in the agreement. I assure a transparent and business-friendly approach by GPA.


Q. After China takes charge of the Gwadar Port do you think developments will meet expectations?


A. China has very recently taken over the port operations. Their local staff is already on the port and arrangements for their own presence are in final stages.


I have not yet been able to meet their chief in Pakistan. The Pak-China Economic Corridor, starting point of which is Gwadar Port, is a long-term multifaceted bilateral economic cooperation plan overseen at the level of the prime ministers of the two countries.


Joint working groups at policy-making ministerial levels and expert groups at the technical and programme / project levels have been established. This systematic hierarchy ensures a swift progress. These arrangements speak magnitude of the commitment, which in turn, I hope, will determine the pace of the progress.


The essential component of this programme is the regional connectivity. For us, in GPA this is the opportunity that we have been looking for since completion of the Phase-I of our port.


Q. What is the status of the port’s land issues with Pakistan Navy?


A. Three important factors are indispensible in nature: connectivity with the hinterland, backup area for allied facilities and large open areas for free zones, export promotion zones and special economic zones. The unresolved matter of land with Pakistan Navy has been a pain-giving point for GPA.


Now, this issue has been taken up at the highest levels in both the provincial, as well as federal capitals. Of the total allocated land for the free zone, a piece of land measuring 584 acres is in use of Navy and 70 acres lie with the Coast Guard.


The GPA is under obligation by the relevant clauses of the concession agreement to clear these pieces of land and hand them over to the concession holder. I hope soon we will be able to resolve this issue.


Q. What is the future of Gwadar Port under the current circumstances?


A. Gwadar Port has a bright future. People know about its importance. All efforts seem to be focused at the Gwadar Port. Even if it is not fully operational in the near future, nobody can take away its geographical location and nature. Future maritime landscape is incomplete without the Gwadar Port. Let’s hope for the better.


The present government is committed to involve the people of Balochistan, in a big way, in port operations. I see a strong will and pledge of the government to make things happening on the port. In my first brief visit to the federal capital, I found high cooperating teams in the Ports and Shipping Division and the Planning Commission.


The government is moving on the right direction in tackling the connectivity linkage issues one by one — some under the umbrella of Pak-China Economic Corridor programme and others through the Public Sector Development Programme.

Source: The NEWS