Friday, January 8, 2016

Govt halts building of Bagamoyo Port

Dar es Salaam port.

Dar es Salaam port. 

By Rosemary Mirondo

Dar es Salaam. The construction of the $10 billion (about Sh22 trillion) Bagamoyo Port has been suspended, The Citizen has learnt. The government wants to focus, instead, on improving the capacity, performance and efficiency of the Mtwara and Dar es Salaam ports.

The minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Prof Makame Mbarawa, confirmed yesterday that the construction of what would be the largest port in Africa has been suspended, not shelved, to pave way for upgrading berths 1 to 7 and the construction of berths 13 and 14 as well as developing the Mtwara Port depending on the availability of funds. These activities would take years to complete, the minister said because the process has to start from finding funding.

“We are looking for funds for the port of Dar es Salaam and then for the Mtwara Port,” he said.

The World Bank has agreed to fund the upgrading of berths 1 to 7, Prof Mbarawa said, though he did not disclose the amount. Plans are to start the construction anytime this year and finish in two years.

Funding for constructing berths 13 and 14 and for upgrading the Mtwara Port has not yet been found. Talks with the World Bank for the possibility of providing the funds for berths 13 and 14 are ongoing and if successful the project would start at the end of this year. Government preference was start upgrading berths 1 to 7 and construction of berths 13 and 14 together.

“It all depends with the financial resources. If we get the funding soon the projects will run,” he said. The initial works for the construction of the Bagamoyo Port had already started after former President Jakaya Kikwete officially broke ground last October. Residents have also started being compensated and relocated to other areas to pave way for the project.

But Prof Mbarawa refused to say whether the suspension of the project meant the initial construction works would also stop.

“I do not want to reveal too much details or plans by the government on the fate of this project. What I can say is only that we are currently concentrating on the Dar es Salaam and Mtwara ports,” he told The Citizen in a telephone interview. He had said earlier yesterday, at the sidelines of a closed meeting with officials of the Tanzania Electrical, Mechanical and Electronics Services Agency (Temesa), that the decisions to suspend building the Bagamoyo Port was because the multibillion project was too big; it needed more attention, a lot of planning and a major source of funding.

The decision to put the Bagamoyo Port in the queueing line has also been informed by the need to take advantage of huge inflows of foreign direct investments in the natural gas-rich regions of Lindi and Mtwara. The construction of the Bagamoyo Port has so far become a politically sensitive issue. Opposition politicians and the private sector have poured scorn on the project arguing it was a waste of resources and urged for putting more focus on improving the existing Tanga, Dar and Mtwara ports and the connecting infrastructure.

President John Magufuli was forced to defend the project during last year’s election campaigns against attacks from the opposition presidential candidate Edward Lowassa who had criticized it when he was campaigning in Tanga. Mr Lowassa had said if elected president he would shelve the project and put resources on improving the Tanga Port. But Dr Magufuli said by criticizing the project, the Former Prime Minister, sought to divide Tanzanians in terms of their areas.

“As far as I am aware the Bagamoyo Port would benefit all Tanzanians and not Bagamoyo residents alone. We should stop sowing the seeds of divisions for the sake of votes,” Dr Magufuli said at a campaign stop.

Opposition politicians have also been complaining that the construction of such a huge project was done without consulting Parliament. The Bagamoyo project will occupy 800 hectares and another 1,700 hectares of Portside Industrial Zone, which will be developed under tripartite agreement of Government of Tanzania (GoT), China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI) from China and State Government Reserve Fund (SGRF) from Oman.

The new port will be able to handle 20 times more cargo than the Dar Port. The first phase was to be completed in 2017. The initial funding of the project was expected to come from the China Merchants Holding International Co. Ltd of China though negotiations for funding the entire project were said to be going on.

An agreement for the initial development of the Bagamoyo Port Project was signed in March 2013 during the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping as part of the Sh1.28 trillion infrastructure package deals. The agreement specified that $500 million would be designated for port financing for the year of 2013 to allow the project to start.