Will Kipchumba Murkomen helm KPA ship to calmer waters?

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipcumba Murkomen. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

In the last four years, four people have occupied the hot seat that is Managing Director of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

The position seams to be a slippery one with occupants being hounded out of office as soon as they settle in. In 2018, Catherine Mturi-Wairi was kicked out after the KPA board accused her of incompetence and theft of containers.

In came Daniel Manduku who barely lasted one year. He was forced to resign after facing corruption allegations. Rashid Salim came in only to controversially go into retirement.

Now, we have John Mwangemi who is serving on an acting capacity. The jury is still out on how long he will last. Industry players are eager to see how new Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipcumba Murkomen will bring leadership stability at the KPA helm.

Mr Murkomen who has taken over from James Macharia will also have to deal with the hot issue of placing the Sh30 billion Second Container Terminal (CT2) under an operator other than KPA.

Previous attempts to place the expansive terminal under the government-owned Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL) and its shareholder, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), ran into headwinds.

This was due to opposition from various players including the Dock Workers Union (DWU) and civil society organization who complained that the process did to go through public participation.

Murkomen is also expected to stem frequent strike threats by the DWU union which represents port workers.

The union has in the past had run-ins with KPA management over a myriad of issues including employment of casuals, salary and allowance hikes, among others.

Currently, the union under General Secretary Simon Sang is pushing for full payment of overtime after KPA management reduced it to 30 per cent of the monthly salary.

In 2015, one of the fiercest strikes that paralysed port operations saw KPA management sack 28 union officials leading to strained industrial relations.

The maritime industry expects the next CS to ensure the order by President William Ruto to revert clearance of cargo back to Mombasa is fully implemented and the local economy 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 lines have circulated to loading ports across the globe.

Before Ruto issued the directive, residents and the business community had complained that an earlier order by the government that was issued in 2018, which ensured cargo is ferried direct from the port to Nairobi and Naivasha, had adversely affected the local economy.

Kenya Ships Agents Association (KSAA) boss Sylvester Kututa said the maritime industry expected to get a Cabinet secretary who can provide strong leadership and reverse the high turnover of KPA CEOs that has dogged the key corporation. He argued that the problem of frequent change of leadership at KPA threatens stability, and noted that the parent ministry and government should fix it.

Mr Kututa who is Managing Director of Express Shipping and Logistics East Africa Ltd said the next CS should allow for competition in the delivery of services as opposed to a monopoly. He said the minister should collaborate with players and other government agencies.

"As Mombasa Port strives to attain world class status, it is important to ensure stability and high performance. To achieve this, it is important to consult with the industry. It is a good thing to collaborate with other ministries and allow competition," he stressed.

Kututa said it time for cargo owners to make choices on how their goods should be handled and transported. He also wants union strikes to come to an end at the port.

Car Importers Association of Kenya (CIAK) National Chairman Peter Otieno said Murkomen should focus on expansion of the highway from Mombasa to Malaba and Busia borders with Uganda, to match with the expansion of the port and its hinterland markets.

According to Mr Otieno, funds could be sourced from private investors who can recoup their money through toll stations.

"The port has been expanded. It should be matched with an eight-lane highway and a modern railway track to the Ugandan border to ensure smooth floor of cargo. This will increase trade now that DR Congo, a big market, wants greater access to the port," he averred.

Otieno also pointed out that Murkomen should ensure there is no congestion on the highways.Otieno opposed the plan to hand over the second container terminal at the port to KNSL saying the national carrier should instead be facilitated to acquire ships to ferry cargo to and from the port.

"The KNSL should acquire ships and start the Indian Ocean service targeting Kenyan cargo instead of running a port terminal," he said.

Otieno also was of the view that the national line can start with carriage of 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 Sh17.9 billion Lamu-Garissa road to open up Lamu Port for business.

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