Over the past four years, four people have occupied the hot seat of the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).
The position seems to be slippery, the occupants being driven out of the office as soon as they are installed. In 2018, Catherine Mturi-Wairi was expelled after the KPA board accused her of incompetence and stealing containers.
Then came Daniel Manduku, which lasted barely a year. He was forced to resign after being accused of corruption. Rashid Salim only arrived to retire controversially.
Now we have John Mwangemi acting on an interim basis. The jury is still out on how long it will last. Industry players are eager to see how the new Transport Cabinet Secretary, Kipcumba Murkomen, will bring leadership stability to the helm of the KPA.
Mr Murkomen, who took over from James Macharia, will also face the burning issue of placing the second 30 billion shillings (CT2) container terminal under an operator other than KPA.
Previous attempts to place the expansive terminal under the Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL) and its shareholder, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), have met with headwinds.
This was due to opposition from various actors, including the Dock Workers Union (DWU) and a civil society organization, who complained that the process had to go through public participation.
Murkomen is also expected to stem frequent strike threats from the DWU union, which represents port workers.
In the past, the union has had disputes with KPA management over a myriad of issues, including the employment of casual workers, wage and severance increases, among others.
Currently, the union led by General Secretary Simon Sang is pushing for full overtime pay after KPA management reduced it to 30% of the monthly salary.
In 2015, one of the fiercest strikes to cripple port operations saw KPA management fire 28 union officials, leading to strained industrial relations.
The shipping industry expects the next SC to ensure that President William Ruto’s order to cancel cargo clearance in Mombasa is fully implemented and the local economy is revived.
Mr Mwangemi has since issued a notice allowing cargo owners to choose where their cargo should be cleared and the mode of transport, which shipping companies have circulated to loading ports around the world.
Before Ruto issued the directive, residents and the business community had complained that an earlier government order issued in 2018, which ensured cargo was transported directly from the port to Nairobi and Naivasha, had harmed the local economy.
Kenya Ships Agents Association (KSAA) boss Sylvester Kututa said the shipping industry expects to have a Cabinet Secretary who can provide strong leadership and reverse the high turnover of KPA CEOs that has hampered the key company. He argued that the problem of frequent leadership changes in the KPA threatens stability, and noted that the line ministry and the government should address it.
Mr. Kututa, Managing Director of Express Shipping and Logistics East Africa Ltd, said the upcoming SC should enable competition in service provision as opposed to a monopoly. He said the minister should work with players and other government agencies.
“As the Port of Mombasa strives to achieve world-class status, it is important to ensure stability and high performance. To achieve this, it is important to consult the industry. It is a good thing to collaborate with other ministries and allow competition,” he stressed.
Kututa said it was time for freight owners to make choices about how their goods should be handled and transported. He also wants union strikes to end at the port.
National Chairman of the Car Importers Association of Kenya (CIAK), Peter Otieno, said Murkomen should focus on expanding the highway from Mombasa to Malaba and Busia borders with Uganda, to match the expansion of the port and its hinterland markets.
According to Otieno, the funds could come from private investors who can collect their money through toll stations.
“The port has been enlarged. It should be matched with an eight lane highway and a modern railway to the Ugandan border to ensure a smooth freight floor. It will increase trade now that DR Congo, a big market, wants better access to the port,” he said.
Otieno also pointed out that Murkomen should make sure there is no congestion on the highways. Port.
“KNSL should acquire vessels and start the Indian Ocean service targeting Kenyan cargo instead of running a port terminal,” he said.
Otieno was also of the view that the national line can start by transporting vehicles from Japan which are imported through the port on a weekly basis.
Players also agree that Murkomen should push for the speedy construction of the 17.9 billion shillings Lamu-Garissa road to open Lamu Port to business.