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The Dock Workers’ Union (DWU) is sounding a red flag that the government plans to privatize 75 per cent of Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) labour force.

The privatization will affect some 1,500 workers, all manual labourers at berths four and seven, which take 100 per cent of Conventional Cargo Handling Services, DWU said.

These services entail the handling of loose cargo like fertilizer, clinker and grains that DWU has credited to 60 per cent of port’s gross revenue, contrary to terminal operations that are expensive to run.

The union said the privatization has not involved the public – the owner of State assets like KPA – as required of such decision, according to Article 10 and 232 of the Kenyan Constitution.

This is the second attempt within a year by the government to privatize parts of Mombasa port.

The most recent deal, and whose details the public has been kept in the dark about, involved Sh30 billion Second Container Terminal (CT2), a facility Kenya built at berths 22 and 23 through Japanese grant.

The government wanted to hand CT2 operations to a private Swiss-Italian firm, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC).

But a spirited legal fight by DWU, MUHURI, and Taireni Association of Mijikenda, deflated the plan in 2019, just a few minutes before a handing over ceremony.

DWU, just like MUHURI, is a member of Okoa Mombasa, a coalition that is also fighting to stop port privatization and to force the government to release information relating to CT2 deal.

Okoa Mombasa is demanding that residents of Coast be allowed to meaningfully participate in any decisions affecting the port, which is Mombasa’s most important economic resource.

DWU has called for a probe into the transactions at berths four and seven, hinting at possible suit should the government fails to stop the deal.

DWU warned the transaction is at the final stages.

According to the union, KPA managers have “for the last few months made concerted efforts with unknown cartels who have planned to systematically and slowly transfer some 75 per cent of the port to the hands of not more than four families.”

DWU Secretary-General, Simon Sang’, said in a statement that berth four takes a huge chunk of KPA business. Its privatization will leave the port without revenue required for the expansion and maintenance of the facility, Sang’ warned.

The official said the privatization has been systematic.

“First is started with KPA leasing berth seven, and now it is in the process of installing permanent bagging equipment, which will result in the takeover of 50 per cent of the conventional cargo operations,” Sang’ said.

DWU also noted the transaction contravenes the KPA Act, Cap 391, which gives the Authority exclusive rights to own and operate all the port terminals within the country.

The transfer of public resources to private hands without public’s consent, Sang’ said, “is a corruption of the highest level”.

“Since the process was not subjected to public participation, the union has no choice but to go to court for redress, if management will not stop it within seven days,” Sang’ said.

The looming privatization of KPA’s labour force threatens the economy of Mombasa, an issue Okoa Mombasa said violates the Kenyan Constitution and other national and international laws.

Read DWU full statement here.