Former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell is proposing that Government leases the island’s two main ports of entry, arguing this could be the big boost the economy so desperately needs.
In fact, in his economic newsletter for August, Worrell argued, “it is an opportunity our Government should not pass up”.
There is no known concrete interest by any major business or organization in a lease, and the Mia Mottley administration has given no signals that it intends to do so.
However, Worrell contended that letting the Bridgetown Port and Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) would be the most lucrative privatization option available to the Mottley Government, which recently defaulted on its international debt, and is currently engaging the International Monetary Fund for assistance in bringing the economy from the brink.
“We have here an opportunity to lift overall economic growth by perhaps as much as one per cent per year, with the associated job creation and access to a global network of possibilities,” he wrote.
Noting that the operation of ports and airports by private firms was now commonplace in developed countries, he added such a move provided “Government with a dependable source of income, it secures major international investment, an ongoing priority for Barbados and it opens entirely new markets and lines of business”.
Worrell suggested that Barbados was ideally positioned because it has geographical, political and business advantages to become an “attractive node in the global network of an international transportation company”.
He pointed out that the island was historically the primary station for seaborne trade between Western Europe and the Caribbean, and between Western Africa and the Caribbean and was also geographically positioned to be a fulcrum between North and South America.
Only last month, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds outlined a major expansion plan for GAIA, which would see the construction of five jet bridges, a rehabilitated runway, and upgrades to several departure gates.
Similarly, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey during a tour of the Bridgetown Port last month, only indicated that a new board would soon be in place and several multi-million dollar contracts for work at the Port would be reviewed.
Worrell was adamant that major investment was needed to realize the economic potential of GAIA and the Bridgetown Port, and Government was not in a position to meet such demands.
He maintained that leasing to major international companies would address all the challenges to realizing the economic potential of the two ports.
“The operator would have access to its own sources of financing, something which is important to a Government which has lost access to international financial markets. An international company would transform the operations of both port and airport, bringing their efficiency up to par with those in advanced countries,” he wrote.
Worrell further recommended that there must be a careful selection process guided by knowledgeable professionals if the island is to fully realize the potential of leasing its main ports.
“Applicants should be major international players with proven track records, their proposals should be reviewed by recognized experts, [and] the public should be satisfied that the process of approval and implementation is openly and efficiently handled, ” he advised.
While Government has shown no appetite for privatizing either the airport of the seaport, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has left no doubt that some state agencies would go.
In her June 11 Budget presentation, Mottley said as part of her expenditure reduction plan there would be a review of such enterprises “focusing on the merger of potentially affiliated entities”.